Tag Archives: wildflower

Day 124 – Miss Rumphius

Another day and another wonderful storybook about wildflowers for National Wildflower Week. Barbara Cooney’s timeless classic, “Miss Rumphius”, is a modern day fable that tells the tale of how fields of lupine came to blanket the coast of Maine. Although the protagonist in Ms. Cooney’s book is fictional, like Lady Bird Johnson in yesterday’s storybook, Alice Rumphius seeks to make the world a more beautiful place through the gift of wildflowers. It is an enchanting and inspiring tale, made even more so by Ms. Cooney’s trademark old-timey illustrations which made us wish we could be inside the book with Miss Rumphius.

rumphiusWhen Alice Rumphius was a little girl, she would sit on her grandfather’s knee as he told her of faraway places, and Alice would tell him, “When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea.” “That is all very well,” he would tell her, “but there is a third thing you must do…You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

When she grew older, Alice (“Miss Rumphius” by now) did travel to faraway places – tropical islands, tall mountains, jungles, and deserts – making friends everywhere she went. And, eventually, when her travels were through, she did settle down in a quaint little house by the sea. However, while two out of three might not be bad for some people, it is not enough for Miss Rumphius: she cannot be completely happy until she has succeeded in making the world more beautiful. She is initially at a loss, since the world is “already pretty nice”, what more can she add? Then, one fine spring day she is surprised to discover a patch of lupines that have sprouted from seeds blown from her garden at home…and inspiration strikes! She hikes along the coast spreading lupine seeds wherever she goes and next spring…there are lupines everywhere! At last she has accomplished the most difficult task of all.

We love this story. I have adored Miss Cooney’s illustrations ever since reading Oxcart Man to our oldest daughter when she was still very little, and they are used to great effect in Miss Rumphius. The charming houses of the fishing village, the tall ships docking at the harbor, the fields full of flowers, even the illustrations of Miss Rumphius’ far-flung travels – they all made us wish we were there…wherever “there” was in each picture. We were also inspired by Miss Cooney’s tale to do some wildflower planting of our own. Knowing that this book was coming up, we placed an order for two big bags of lupine seeds…and while I felt as though I may have gone a bit overboard initially, after reading the book I wish I had even more seeds to spread about. I had better get to work, too, if I want to start making the world a more beautiful place.


Day 123 – Miss Ladybird’s Wildflowers

May 2nd marked the beginning of National Wildflower Week. What better time to read about Lady Bird Johnson, the First Lady who brought us the Highway Beautification Act and the National Wildflower Research Center in Austin, Texas. “Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers” by Kathi Appelt and illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein is a vibrant and inspiring introduction to this remarkable woman who is still revered in her home state of Texas for the work she did to raise the profile of wildflowers and to help spread their natural beauty along the sides of highways across the country.

Having lived in Texas for over thirty years, I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t previously know much about Lady Bird Johnson. I had been told at some point that she was responsible for the bluebonnet patches that blanket the highway medians around the state, and I had the sense that she had somehow achieved saint-like stature…but I really didn’t know any details. So, today’s book was particularly valuable for me if for no other reason than to fill in a woefully lacking gap in my (Texas) cultural literacy!lady bird

Ms. Appelt began by telling us about Lady Bird’s lonely childhood in East Texas, and how she found solace after the death of her mother in the wildflower meadows, piney woods, and dark bayous around her home. As a congressman’s wife in Washington DC many years later, Lady Bird was troubled by the lack of natural beauty she saw around the city, and the idea of children growing up surrounded only by concrete and asphalt. Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, in her new role as First Lady she sought to the help the country heal by working to promote the planting of flowers and trees around Washington DC, and by pushing for the passage of the Highway Beautification Act – which cleaned up the sides of highways around the country, replacing billboards and rusted cars with wildflowers. When she turned 70, she helped to establish the National Wildflower Research Center south of Austin, Texas to study uses for wildflowers and to preserve seeds of endangered varieties.

The book fills in a number of other details of Lady Bird’s life, including her storybook romance with Lyndon Johnson, with accessible language that avoids becoming a “laundry list” of events and accomplishments. Ms. Appelt also sprinkles the story with well-placed quotations from Lady Bird herself – giving some insight into the soul of this champion of wildflowers. Meanwhile, Ms. Hein’s illustrations help the reader to appreciate the beauty that Lady Bird saw in the wildflowers, woods, bayous, and hills of her home state.

“Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers” is a beautiful book and an apt tribute to our 38th First Lady. Next time I pull around a bend in the road and my breath is taken away by a field full of bluebonnets, I’ll remember to thank her.