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Miss Rumphius

by Barbara Cooney


Miss Rumphius explores one child’s journey in learning how to make the world more beautiful.

Miss Rumphius’s grandfather tells her to make the world more beautiful. She has difficulty coming up with a way to do this until she plants lupines and the wind carries the seeds. The next summer she travels, spreading lupine seeds. She presents the same challenge to her great niece at the conclusion of the book.

Read aloud video by KidLit TV

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Every person has values, whether they know specifically what they are, or whether they just live by them without realizing it. Values, in their simplest form, are the principles or judgments about what in life is important. But how do we acquire these values? Miss Rumphius illustrates two ways that this is possible: explicitly (listening to people) and implicitly (observing people and following their example). The book opens with Miss Rumphius sitting with her grandfather and being enchanted by his life story. She decides because of the example that he set, she too wants to travel to faraway places and live by the sea. He tells her that she must also make the world more beautiful, but he doesn’t tell her how.

Miss Rumphius raises questions concerning what it means to make the world more beautiful. Students will be quick to bring up things that are physically beautiful but will hopefully get to a point where they can figure out what is essential to their beliefs about what makes something beautiful. This leads to the next question set: the nature of beauty. Philosophically, there are a number of issues. First, are there objective features of something that make it beautiful, or is beauty, as they say, in the eye of the beholder? In addition, there are many questions about whether beauty is culturally determined or not.

The next question set deals with family values. Students will be anxious to share what is important in their family and there will be great variety in their responses. Some philosophers believe that each person has a filial duty, while others do not.

Prominent in this book is the topic of what gives a life meaning, which by its nature is very personal. After exploring the possibilities through firsthand life experiences, a person must decide what their mark will be on the world. This is probably why the characters in Miss Rumphius found it so important to travel the world. It’s a metaphor for having a wide range of life experiences. The author believes that through those life experiences, we are in the best position to discover some experience that enriches our lives and, if we are lucky, the lives of others.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Making the World More Beautiful

Miss Rumphius’s grandfather tells her that she must make the world more beautiful.

  1. What does Miss Rumphius’s grandfather do to make the world more beautiful?
  2. What does Miss Rumphius do to make the world more beautiful?
  3. Are there other ways to make the world more beautiful? Explain.
  4. Is there a right or wrong way to make the world more beautiful?
  5. Name something that you think is beautiful. What would you do to make it more beautiful?
  6. Does making something more beautiful make it better?
  7. Can you make a person more beautiful? Does that make them a better person?

Family Values

Miss Rumphius’s grandfather gives her a duty, which she passes along to her great niece.

  1. What did Miss Rumphius want to do just like her grandfather?
  2. What does Miss Rumphius’s grandfather tell her that she must do?
  3. What is something that your parents have told you that you must do? Did you also think it was important, or did you just listen because they were your parents?
  4. When you grow up, do you think it’s still important to listen to your parents?
  5. Do you think that you have a responsibility to do absolutely everything you can to make sure that the desires of your family members are fulfilled?


When Miss Rumphius travels to faraway places she meets many people who become her friends.

  1. What does the Bapa Raja give to Miss Rumphius?
  2. Why did Miss Rumphius become friends with him?
  3. What do you like about the people who are your friends?
  4. Is it possible to be friends with somebody who you know you probably won’t see again?
  5. What is it about a person that makes them your friend?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Jenna Caputo archived here. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

Download & Print Email Book Module Back to All Books
Back to All Books Illustrated book cover for Miss Rumphius featuring a woman kneeling by a patch of blue, purple, and pink lupin flowers. She has light skin and graying red hair and is wearing a black robe. A black and white cat walks next to her. Behind her is a misty lake, pine trees, and a house on a rocky hill. Download & Print Email Book Module

About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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