children’s books from feminist readers: Sarah

A guest post by Sarah, a doctoral student in counseling psychology. Sarah’s research interests include understanding the interactions between various social identities (especially race and sexual orientation) and bullying in schools.

a beloved book from childhood

A favorite book from my childhood is Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. Affectionately known as “The Lupine Lady” in our family, this book has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I think my parents must have read it to my brother and me many times, and I loved looking at the pictures and then reading it on my own as I got older. I still love reading it now.

what that says about that child

I remember being entranced by the pictures when I was little; they were so delicate and beautiful. We always searched for lupines when we went “Up North” to Lake Superior in the summer, and I treasured the lupines as Miss Rumphius did. I don’t remember thinking this explicitly at the time, but now I am so glad for this story of a woman who is taught to find her own path in life—Miss Rumphius is told as a child that her calling is to make the world more beautiful, and after traveling the world as a single woman she settles down in a village where she ends up scattering lupine seeds each year. I liked Miss Rumphius best as an elderly woman who gracefully and independently did what she wanted to do; and what she wanted to do was such a blessing to the world around her!

a children’s book worth sharing enthusiastically now

The second grade students I tutored through an AmeriCorps program introduced me to A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams. They loved this book and wanted me to read and love it too.  The school where I worked has a high percentage of students who are homeless and highly mobile and who get most of their food from the free breakfast, lunch, and snack offered at school. I appreciate how the book tells a story that my students could relate to in a normalizing, lovely way, and I admire the beauty of the pictures and the strength of the (female) main characters. The community surrounding the main characters rallies around them, and at the same time the family at the center of the story is shown to be resourceful and strong.

what that says about this reader’s evolution

My experience working with my students changed me in profound ways. I am now very aware that the privileged life of (white, clearly upper class) Miss Rumphius is very different from that of the girl in Williams’ work. But it is interesting to note that both books feature intricate illustrations that were drawn by their female authors, both books were published in 1982, and both are unapologetically about girls and women. As a therapist in training, I am taught to search for and highlight the strengths apparent in my clients’ stories; these books do an adept job of bringing out the main characters’ power while still acknowledging the difficulties inherent in living in our society. Although I am perhaps now better able to articulate why I am drawn to these books, the underlying reasons I have are the same now as they were when I was quite small.

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  1. Molly
    Posted 24 April 2013 at 8:48 PM | Permalink

    I love Miss Rumphius! In addition to the gender stuff, I am always excited to see elderly characters (especially non-grandparent ones, people who are there as themselves rather than as The Grandparents)–also perfectly happy, fulfilled adults (especially women) without children. All rather rare, and actually not just in children’s books/media …

    • Sarah
      Posted 4 May 2013 at 12:23 AM | Permalink

      So glad you love the book too! And yes, when I was re-reading it to write this post I was also struck by the portrayal of the various elderly people. I love when things like that aren’t commented on or set up as weird; they’re just there.

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