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.
About the Author
H. Joseph Hopkins lives on a houseboat in Portland, Oregon. This is his first picture book.
Jill McElmurry (1954–2017) was the illustrator of many picture books, including her own Mad About Plaid, When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt, and the bestselling Little Blue Truck series, written by Alice Schertle. She happily divided her time between the wide landscape of New Mexico and a green island in Minnesota. Learn more about her life and work at JillMcElmurry.com.
* “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.” — Booklist, June 1, 2013, *STARRED REVIEW
"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’ text presents Sessions’ achievements in simple language embodying Kate’s can-do spirit.... McElmurry’s gouache illustrations adopt a stylized, reductive approach.... 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." — Kirkus Reviews, July 2013
"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." — Horn Book Magazine, September-October 2013
"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.... 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.... 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." — Publishers Weekly, September 2013
“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.” — The New York Times, September 11, 2013
* "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."
— School Library Journal, November 2013, *STARRED REVIEW
"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." — The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, October 2013
"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." — Library Media Connection, January/February 2014
"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." — Shelf Awareness, October 2013