“Miss Rumphius” taught me about humble acts of kindness.
As I prepare to give birth to my first child — a little girl — in June, one of the things I’m most looking forward to is reading books together.
I love the experience of being read aloud to. I love listening to someone else’s voice shape the words in a story and convey the feelings of its characters, while I relax my mind and allow my imagination to open and unfold, receiving the story like a flower receives a pollinator.
When I taught elementary school in my twenties, I greatly enjoyed reading aloud to my students. I’d make a point to have my class gather together on the rug, get cozy, and listen to a good story every day.
After reading a few chapters we’d often engage in thoughtful, emotional, and intellectual conversations. My little ones listened very carefully! They’d talk about their interpretations of the themes, characters, and imagery.
Reading stories as a group helped my students become more self-aware and build compassion for each other. It exercised the muscle of imagination.
Sometimes, when I had a break, I’d take a moment to read a children’s book alone, myself.
I’d choose one and take it down off the bookshelf, and read quietly. I savored each sentence, each picture, like a delicious pastry or rich cup of coffee, turning the page slowly and letting the words and illustrations imprint on my mind.
The story of Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney inspires me to this day, on a regular basis. It’s one of my all-time favorite children’s books.
Miss Rumphius makes the world a more beautiful place by scattering lupine seeds everywhere she goes.
As a result of her actions, countless lupine flowers bloom in colors of blue, purple, and pink all along the coast of Maine. She is also a world traveler and a role model to children, but her true legacy is found in the simple act of adding beauty to the world, which she does in an anonymous and humble way.
As a result of this story and because of my respect for the character Miss Rumphius, I’ve been inspired to do countless acts of kindness in my own community: from watering and mulching street trees during drought season, to donating plants to nursing homes, to picking up trash in public places.
Furthermore, my students were inspired to do similar things in their own neighborhoods after we read this story together.
There are so many ways to help make the world a happier, more beautiful place, and what this story teaches us is that acts of kindness do not have to be loud, hard to achieve, or acted out for the goal of winning an accolade.
You and I can make a difference today, this very hour, even — and it can start with something as small as planting a flower seed.
Or reading a book to a child.
“Miss Rumphius” received the American Book Award in the year of its publication.
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Article originally published on Medium, April 25th, 2017.