The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever

Overview

Unearth the true story of green-thumbed pioneer and activist Kate Sessions, who helped San Diego grow from a dry desert town into a lush, leafy city known for its gorgeous parks and gardens.

Katherine Olivia Sessions never thought she’d live in a place without trees. After all, Kate grew up among the towering pines and redwoods of Northern California. But after becoming the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a degree in science, she took a job as a ...

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Overview

Unearth the true story of green-thumbed pioneer and activist Kate Sessions, who helped San Diego grow from a dry desert town into a lush, leafy city known for its gorgeous parks and gardens.

Katherine Olivia Sessions never thought she’d live in a place without trees. After all, Kate grew up among the towering pines and redwoods of Northern California. But after becoming the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a degree in science, she took a job as a teacher far south in the dry desert town of San Diego. Where there were almost no trees.

Kate decided that San Diego needed trees more than anything else. So this trailblazing young woman singlehandedly started a massive movement that transformed the town into the green, garden-filled oasis it is today. Now, more than 100 years after Kate first arrived in San Diego, her gorgeous gardens and parks can be found all over the city.

Part fascinating biography, part inspirational story, this moving picture book about following your dreams, using your talents, and staying strong in the face of adversity is sure to resonate with readers young and old.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Sarah Harrison Smith
The Tree Lady has an obvious companion in Miss Rumphius, Barbara Cooney's prize-winning 1982 picture book about the Lupine Lady, who scattered flower seeds along the Maine coast. In their own way, these true stories of unconventional American lives fulfill their heroines' ambitions of making the world a more beautiful place—and plant the seeds of future beauty in the minds of their readers.
Publishers Weekly
Echoing Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius in artistic style and theme, this picture book biography recalls the life and contributions of a horticulturist in the late 19th century. Kate Sessions populated San Diego’s landscape with not lupines but trees. Her love for nature dated back to her childhood, where, in school, “she liked studying wind and rain, muscles and bones, plants and trees. Especially trees.” McElmurry’s (Mad About Plaid) naïve illustrations are packed with patterns, from the dusty brown houses Sessions views as she docks in San Diego to the teardrop and polka-dot motifs in the trees. Likewise, debut author Hopkins skillfully employs a pattern in his narrative, a catchy refrain that emphasizes Sessions’s can-do attitude: “Not everyone feels at home in the woods. But Kate did.... Most San Diegans didn’t think trees could ever grow there. But Kate did.” Vignettes that include muddy handprints, labeled plant cell parts, and trees subtitled with their Latin names complement the larger gouache spreads, and a concluding note explains more about the inspirational spirit and work of a pioneering arborist. Ages 5–10. Illustrator’s agent: Marcia Wernick, Wernick & Pratt. (Sept.)
The New York Times
“For slightly older readers ready for a little history, Hopkins describes the magic wrought by the Tree Lady, a real Victorian-era woman named Kate Sessions, who transformed San Diego’s arid Balboa Park into a lush, tree-filled garden…. Hopkins includes a lot of facts in the story, but his clever repetition of the phrase “But Kate did” each time her success confound expectations adds rhythm and a predictable structure.

Even children who find the details of Sessions’ life difficult to absorb are likely to be enchanted by the book’s appearance. McElmurry’s paintings combine stylized design elements with naturalistic details…the plants and trees are detailed and distinct but also simplified enough that their basic structures can be easily understood.

“The Tree Lady” has an obvious companion in “Miss Rumphius”…. In their own way, these true stories of unconventional American lives fulfill their heroines’ ambitions of making the world a more beautiful place—and plant the seeds of future beauty in the minds of their readers.”

October 2013 The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
"This picture-book biography of Katherine Olivia Sessions traces the nineteenthcentury horticulturist from curious child with an affinity for trees, to the first woman to graduate with a science degree from the University of California, to schoolteacher with a vision for a greener, cooler, shadier San Diego than the sun-scorched patch she viewed from her classroom window.... The lively text, with its frequent repetitions of “Kate did,” “she did,” they did,” etc., exudes an optimistic, can-do attitude that will make listeners feel they’re in the presence of a newfound hero. McElmurry’s paintings, which add a dash of playfulness to a folk-art style, convey both the possibilities of the bare orange landscape and the lushness and variety of Sessions’ mature plantings. An author’s note offers additional detail, but the main text handily describes how a scientist-turned-teacher-turned-activist created her leafy legacy well into the twentieth century."
January/February 2014 Library Media Connection
"A very useful read-aloud for a science lesson in ecology and conservation.... The Tree Lady is a worthwhile addition to any collection and is particularly useful in integrating science with literature and biography."
Booklist
* “A terrific jacket image shows a tiny girl in a towering forest as seen from above. Who is this girl? And why is she the tree lady? Well, turns out Katherine Olivia Sessions, who grew up in Northern California in the 1860s, always loved trees…. A little-known, can-do woman shines in this handsome picture book from Hopkins and McElmurry. Hopkins ably brings a woman’s passion—and some science—to a story that’s accessible for young children. And, oh the pictures! Both old-timey and lush, they evoke Kate’s vision perfectly, and individually labeled illustrations of trees add to the educational value. A lovely tribute to the pioneering (and environmentalist) spirit, topped off by an author’s note.”
September-October 2013 Horn Book Magazine
"A real-life Miss Rumphius, Kate Sessions was responsible for populating San Diego’s Balboa Park with lush, green trees, just in time for the Panama-California Exposition in 1915.... Hopkins’s text succinctly captures the highlights...effectively underscoring Sessions’s drive and determination. McElmurry’s gouache illustrations document the gradually changing landscape from barren desert to verdant garden. One particularly effective spread not only illustrates twelve different kinds of trees Sessions brought to San Diego but also shows the far-flung places from which they were imported. This picture book biography captures the infectious passion Sessions had for her chosen vocation, but it’s also a wonderful testament to urban planning and human ecology—and a great book for Arbor Day."
October 2013 Shelf Awareness
"With an economical text and a spirited refrain, debut author H. Joseph Hopkins tells the story of boundary-breaking scientist Katherine Olivia Sessions.... The story is as much poetry as it is biography.... Kate broke the boundaries of what most women could do because of her passion for science, and for trees in particular. Her story will inspire children to follow their dreams."
October 2013 The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
"This picture-book biography of Katherine Olivia Sessions traces the nineteenthcentury horticulturist from curious child with an affinity for trees, to the first woman to graduate with a science degree from the University of California, to schoolteacher with a vision for a greener, cooler, shadier San Diego than the sun-scorched patch she viewed from her classroom window.... The lively text, with its frequent repetitions of “Kate did,” “she did,” they did,” etc., exudes an optimistic, can-do attitude that will make listeners feel they’re in the presence of a newfound hero. McElmurry’s paintings, which add a dash of playfulness to a folk-art style, convey both the possibilities of the bare orange landscape and the lushness and variety of Sessions’ mature plantings. An author’s note offers additional detail, but the main text handily describes how a scientist-turned-teacher-turned-activist created her leafy legacy well into the twentieth century."
School Library Journal
* "Katherine Olivia Sessions was a real go-getter, becoming the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a science degree (1881) and transforming San Diego’s City Park from a dry, ugly hillside into a lush garden flourishing beneath a beautiful canopy of trees.... Hopkins writes in a light narrative style that makes this picture-book biography a great selection for a storytime with a nature-based theme, but it also contains good information for early report writers. The author utilizes variations of a positive, upbeat refrain–“but she did”–that kids will enjoy repeating. McElmurry’s artwork undergirds Hopkins’s writing with stylized beauty and a sense of joy. This is a wonderful tribute to a true champion of nature."
Booklist
* “A terrific jacket image shows a tiny girl in a towering forest as seen from above. Who is this girl? And why is she the tree lady? Well, turns out Katherine Olivia Sessions, who grew up in Northern California in the 1860s, always loved trees…. A little-known, can-do woman shines in this handsome picture book from Hopkins and McElmurry. Hopkins ably brings a woman’s passion—and some science—to a story that’s accessible for young children. And, oh the pictures! Both old-timey and lush, they evoke Kate’s vision perfectly, and individually labeled illustrations of trees add to the educational value. A lovely tribute to the pioneering (and environmentalist) spirit, topped off by an author’s note.”
September-October 2013 Horn Book Magazine
"A real-life Miss Rumphius, Kate Sessions was responsible for populating San Diego’s Balboa Park with lush, green trees, just in time for the Panama-California Exposition in 1915.... Hopkins’s text succinctly captures the highlights...effectively underscoring Sessions’s drive and determination. McElmurry’s gouache illustrations document the gradually changing landscape from barren desert to verdant garden. One particularly effective spread not only illustrates twelve different kinds of trees Sessions brought to San Diego but also shows the far-flung places from which they were imported. This picture book biography captures the infectious passion Sessions had for her chosen vocation, but it’s also a wonderful testament to urban planning and human ecology—and a great book for Arbor Day."
Children's Literature - Jean Boreen
This is a beautifully illustrated book that tells the very interesting story of Kate Sessions, the woman who helped turn San Diego, California from a typical desert town to a city known for lush green parks. Kate Sessions grew up in Northern California, surrounded by forests and nursing a love of science and nature. As the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a degree in science, Kate excelled, especially in conjunction with the natural world. But when she took a teaching job in dry and dusty San Diego, Kate was not sure how long she could stand living in a desert with little vegetation. After a number of years of teaching, Kate turned her attention to gardening and seeking out trees that could actually grow in the desert. By 1900, San Diego had elms, oaks, eucalyptus, and palm trees growing along the sides of streets and in small local parks. In 1909, in anticipation of the Panama-California Exposition, Kate Sessions and a group of interested community members began planting trees and bushes through Balboa Park, the site of the exhibition. By the time of the Exhibition, visitors were actually able to stand in shade as they toured the exhibits. An author's note at the end of the text provides additional information about Kate Sessions. I completely enjoyed this book and really enjoyed the story as well as the way in which it was told; young readers should, too. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, Ph.D.
Kirkus Reviews
Hopkins respectfully profiles Kate Sessions, a pioneering horticulturalist who helped transform San Diego's City Park from a barren waste into today's lush, tree-filled Balboa Park. Hopkins traces the effects of Kate's childhood affinity for science and fascination with trees. Roaming the Northern California woods as a child and becoming the first woman to earn a science degree from the University of California in 1881, Kate turned her passion into work that transformed a community. After a brief teaching stint in San Diego, she became a gardener and worked out a nifty deal with the city: In exchange for leasing acreage for a plant nursery within City Park, she promised to plant 100 trees a year in the park and deliver additional hundreds for planting citywide. Sessions sourced seeds from species grown globally and coordinated tree-planting parties to beautify Balboa Park in time for the city's 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Hopkins' text presents Sessions' achievements in simple language embodying Kate's can-do spirit. "Most San Diegans didn't think trees could ever grow there. But Kate did." McElmurry's gouache illustrations adopt a stylized, reductive approach. Foliage is rendered as green globes decorated with leaf forms; the bark of palms sports simple crosshatching. The artist nicely conveys Kate's life arc, from child among sequoias to elder on a tree-lined park path. An appealing treatment of an accomplished woman's life. (author's note) (Picture book/biography. 5-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442414020
  • Publisher: Beach Lane Books
  • Publication date: 9/17/2013
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 154,629
  • Age range: 5 - 10 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.40 (w) x 11.60 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Jill McElmurry has written and illustrated many acclaimed picture books, including Mario Makes a Move; Mad about Plaid; Who Stole Mona Lisa? by Ruthie Knapp; and the bestselling Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle. She lives on a farm in New Mexico. Visit her at JillMcElmurry.com.

H. Joseph Hopkins lives on a houseboat in Portland, Oregon. This is his first picture book.

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