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The Children’s Book That Made Me Realize It’s Okay to Be Alone

14 February 2018

From Electric Lit:

I am the uncle who gives books to my nephews and one niece. I do this out of love for them and the books, but also out of the need to recover things I may have lost. Most often, the books I give are those iconic lodestones masquerading under simple turns-of-phrase: The Giving Tree, The Little Engine That Could, etc.

. . . .

I decided it would be better to give my niece a compass rather than a map. The one book that came to mind was “Mrs. Rumphius” — a book that I had told myself was “my favorite,” the one that “really influenced” me. Both of those things were true, and I did truly cherish the book’s influence on me. But seeing the title on the cover of the new copy I held in my hands, I realized that I had for years been woefully calling it by something that was not its name.

Miss Rumphius — not Mrs. — is perhaps Barbara Cooney’s most beloved work, and certainly her most well known. The 1982 book tells the life story of Alice Rumphius, an equestrian-elegant, red-haired girl born sometime before the ascendancy of the steamship, somewhere in northeastern America. Something of the young nation’s aloof confidence, charged with untested potential, energizes Alice’s tale of self-reliance — a quality she exhibits from the very beginning. As a child, she adores her immigrant grandfather’s wide-ranging stories of “faraway places,” shared with her in the firelight of his home “in a city by the sea.” She promises that she will travel the world too, one day, and that when she’s finished, she will come home to a house beside the sea. Her grandfather blesses her intentions, but on the condition that she fulfill one request: “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Children's Books

2 Comments to “The Children’s Book That Made Me Realize It’s Okay to Be Alone”

  1. please don’t give kids–especially little girls!–The Giving Tree. what a hell book that is.

  2. Thanks for linking to this thoughtful exploration of a childhood book that has lurked on the edges of my brain for a long time. Now I know why. Being a mostly contented single lady myself, I really appreciate what this man had to say about the lack of romantic love in Miss Rumphius’s story and how that’s okay.

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