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Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Tree Lady, written by H. Joseph Hopkins and illustrated by Jill McElmurry. Beach Lane Books, Simon & Schuster. 2013. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"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. Kate never thought she would live in a place with very few trees. But now she did."

My interest in this story was piqued because of my visits to the San Diego area. I found it to be so verdant and beautiful, and I loved both visits to Balboa Park.

Kate Sessions lived in the late 1800s, the first female science graduate of the University of California. As a child she loved exploring the nearby woods and learning as much as she could about them. That led her to further study following high school graduation. She tried teaching; it was not for her. Horticulture was her passion. So, she followed her heart. Her influence remains a defining moment in the development of the arid, desert-like area that was City Park into the lovely and charming mecca that Balboa Park is for visitors today. She knew she could do it, and she did!

It was unusual for women to do such work.
The author provides much factual information to help young learners know just exactly what Kate did, even when others thought she could not, or should not. The repetitive phrase 'But Kate did' ensures that they are reminded of that. Her story is simply told, while there is much here to understand.

Jill McElmurry uses the natural details of the city to show readers how San Diego was transformed by the unique and brilliant vision of a trained horticulturalist. I like the characters she creates, and the many details she includes to capture our attention, and add humor. Done in gouache, the illustrations add the beauty that was so important to Kate herself. The greens are lush and plentiful, the patterns are evident, the work was difficult...all shown in the images created for this lovely and informative book. An author's note speaks to its inspiration.


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