Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins

The Tree Lady: the true story of how one tree-loving woman changed a city forever
By H. Joseph Hopkins; Illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Beach Lane Books. 2013
ISBN: 9781442414020
Grades 1 - 5

I borrowed this book from my local public library

For anyone who has had the opportunity to visit San Diego, especially Balboa Park, you will remember the enormous variety of trees, shrubs, flowers and vines. Who was responsible for transforming this once desert town into a gardener’s paradise? Katherine Olivia Sessions.

Growing up in northern California in 1860 surrounded by trees, Katherine Sessions was someone who was very comfortable being in the woods. Girls from Kate’s side of town weren’t supposed to get their hands dirty. But Kate did. A wonderful student, in 1881, Kate became the first woman ever to graduate with a degree in science from the University of California.  

After graduation, Kate took a job in Southern California. When her boat docked in San Diego, she saw that her new home was a desert town.  
Could she live in a place with very few trees?

McElmurry’s illustrations, rendered in gouache on 140 lb. cold-pressed watercolor paper, are delicate. Children’s faces are full of expression and we watch the city of San Diego go from desert to a lush, green city full of trees. 

The book lacks back matter, but Hopkins does include a lengthy author’s note that gives a bit more background on his subject.

Picture book biographies are useful introductions for students of all ages. Pair The Tree Lady with Planting the trees of Kenya: the story of Wangari Maathai or two of my favorite picture books, Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney and A Tree Is Nice by Janice Udry. Also, The Tree Lady would be perfect in a display for Arbor Day, Earth Day, and Women’s History Month.

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