The Tree Lady
written by H. Joseph Hopkins; illustrated by Jill McElmurry
2013 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library
As a child, Kate Sessions liked to get her hands dirty. In the 1860s, that was frowned upon. She also liked science. For girls, that was not within society’s norms. When Kate graduated in 1881 with a science degree, she was the first woman to do so from the University of California. Kate became a teacher and vice principal in San Diego afterwards. Kate could see City Park from her school and it wasn’t an attractive site. Cattle grazed there and garbage was dumped. Citizens doubted trees could be grown there, but Kate thought otherwise. She sought out seeds from gardeners across the globe and went to Mexico to find trees that grew in hot, dry weather. Because of Kate’s efforts and her influence on San Diegans, trees were growing in every part of the city. When San Diego was selected to host the Panama-California Exposition, leaders decided to place it in City Park, which was now called Balboa Park. Kate knew the city needed a lot more trees for this event, and she was going to need help in planting them. Through tree-planting parties and other efforts, the park became a luscious garden and Kate was anointed the Mother of Balboa Park.
As I was reading The Tree Lady, my mind kept going back to the beloved Miss Rumphius. Kate Sessions was a real life Miss Rumphius. She made a difference by making her world, San Diego, a better place. This is a terrific picture book biography that would be great to share anytime, but especially in the spring around Earth Day. I would also use it to teach character traits.