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

by H Joseph Hopkins (Author) Jill McElmurry (Illustrator)

The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade
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.
Select format:
$17.09 $18.99

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) naive 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.)

Copyright 2013 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

K-Gr 2--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. Motivated by the love she'd felt for trees since her childhood, Sessions researched species that would grow in arid weather and hilly terrain, and she asked gardeners around the world to send her seeds. She had left teaching to establish a nursery, and by the turn of the century, trees from that nursery were growing not only in City Park but all over San Diego. The park would be the site of the Panama-California Exposition in 1909, and Sessions wanted thousands of additional trees in place to make it even more spectacular. Multitudes volunteered, and the result was so lovely that the fair stayed open for two years instead of one. 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.--Alyson Low, Fayetteville Public Library, AR

Copyright 2013 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

* "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
H Joseph Hopkins
H. Joseph Hopkins is the author of The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever, illustrated by Jill McElmurry. He lives on a houseboat in Portland, Oregon.

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
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Beach Lane Books
Publication date
September 20, 2013
BISAC categories
JNF007020 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Historical
JNF037040 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Science & Nature | Trees & Forests
JNF007120 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Women
Library of Congress categories
Sessions, Kate Olivia
San Diego
Kentucky Bluegrass Award
Nominee 2015 - 2015
Keystone to Reading Book Award
Nominee 2015 - 2015
Oregon Book Awards
Finalist 2015 - 2015
Georgia Children's Book Award
Finalist 2016 - 2016
California Young Reader Medal
Nominee 2016 - 2016
Land of Enchantment Book Award
Nominee 2015 - 2016

Subscribe to our delicious e-newsletter!