This week we’re reading Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney. As a young girl, the title character resolves that she will travel the world and then settle down in a house by the sea. Her grandfather tells her that she must also find a way to make the world more beautiful. The book follows her long life and her effort, when she is at a low point in body and spirit, to find a way to fulfil her grandfather’s directive.
This morning we began our study of Miss Rumphius with a geography lesson. After I read the book I gave it to Alex, asking her to see if she could figure out where it takes place while I read to Colin. She studied the text and pictures carefully. It takes place along a rocky coast, in a place with difficult winters. Alex concluded, apparently correctly, that it must take place in Maine. We labeled Maine on the map. Then we looked at the pictures and descriptions of Miss Rumphius’s world travels and used our atlas to try to figure out where she might have gone and what the pictures told us about the land, people, and ways of living in the different places. There are three travel illustrations: a tropical island, an Alp-like mountain, and a Middle Eastern or North African scene of a small Islamic settlement. The detailed illustrations, along with our well-illustrated atlas, gave us a lot to talk about.
We closed with one of my very favorite children’s biographies: Uncommon Traveler: Mary Kingsley in Africa. Kingsley was an isolated Victorian, brought up to wait on her parents and freed by their deaths when she was thirty to realize her dreams of traveling to Africa. (In full, proper Victorian lady’s clothing, no less.) The picture book quotes liberally from Kingsley’s diaries, which are both exciting and dryly funny; upon falling into a spike-filled hunting pit she remarks, “It is at these times that you realize the blessings of a good thick skirt.” Alex and I both enjoyed this book, and I think it expanded her sense of how unusual Miss Rumphius’s travels were as well.
A great first day with this unusual book.