Picture Book for Older Readers

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

By H. Joseph Hopkins

Illustrated by Jill McElmurry

Simon & Schuster Books, 2013


This book summarizes the remarkable life story of Katherine (Kate) Olivia Sessions. Kate Sessions was responsible for bringing greenery to the desert-like region of San Diego. Kate grew up among the amazing redwood trees of Northern California and always had a passion for nature and science. She was the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a science degree, and after moving to San Diego in 1883, she taught school for several years.

Eventually, Kate decided to leave teaching to follow her passion for horticulture, establishing a plant nursery within City Park. In exchange for being allowed to lease city land for her nursery, Kate promised to plant 100 trees a year in City Park and deliver others throughout the city. Kate wanted to make sure the trees she planted survived in the arid region of San Diego, so she researched trees that grew in similar regions around the world and asked for the seedlings to be shipped to her.

Soon, people from all over San Diego were purchasing trees from her nursery for their own yards and San Diego was being transformed, one tree at a time. When the World’s Fair was held in Balboa Park, Kate’s friends and acquaintances volunteered to plant trees, creating the lush and verdant Balboa Park of today. The Tree Lady is a story about a Victorian-era woman who followed her dreams and never gave up.


About the Author

H. Joseph Hopkins lives on a houseboat in Portland, Oregon but grew up in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains and in the Puget Sound region of Washington. He was inspired by the contrast of San Diego’s lush green landscapes and its dry, desert areas. Hopkins also believed the story of Katherine Sessions would be a strong role model for students since she had to overcome many obstacles to achieve her goals.

About the Illustrator

Jill McElmurry lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico on her farm. She was born in Los Angeles, California but grew up in Taos, New Mexico. She studied art at SUNY Purchase and School of Visual Arts. McElmurry has a long list of credits to her name and has illustrated several children’s books including Pirate Princess, Mad About Plaid, Who Stole the Mona Lisa, Little Blue Truck, and Hound from the Pound just to name a few. In her spare time, Jill enjoys painting the beautiful landscape of New Mexico.


Biographies About Women

Brown, Don. Uncommon Traveler: Mary Kingsley in Africa. Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

Cummins, Julie. Women Daredevils: Thrills, Chills, and Thrills. Dutton Children’s Books, 2008.

Cummins, Julie. Women Explorers: Perils, Pistols, and Petticoats. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012.

Markel, Michelle. Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909. Balzer + Bray, 2013.

McCarthy, Meghan. Daredevil: The Daring Life of Betty Skelton. Simon & Simon, 2013.

Pinborough, Jan. Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013.

McDonnell, Patrick. Me--Jane. Little Brown, 2011.  

Stone, Tanya Lee. Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote. Henry Holt, 2008.

Stone, Tanya Lee. Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell. Henry Holt & Co., 2013.

Tonatiuh, Duncan. Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation. Harry N. Abrams, 2014.

Van Allsburg, Chris. Queen of the Falls. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2011.

Winter, Jeanette. The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps. Schwartz & Wade Books, 2001.

Ecology Theme

Base, Graeme. Uno’s Garden. Harry N. Abrams, 2006.

Cherry, Lynne. The Great Kapok Tree:  A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2000.

Chin, Jason. Redwoods. Roaring Brook Press, 2009.

Cooney, Barbara. Miss Rumphius. Puffin Books, 1985.

Florian, Douglas. Poetrees. Beach Lane Books, 2010.

Muldrow, Diane. We Planted a Tree. Golden Books, 2010.

Nicholls, Judith. The Sun in Me: Poems about the Planet. Barefoot Books. 2003.

Preus, Margi. Celebritrees: Historic and Famous Trees of the World. Henry Holt, 2010.

Sirett, Dawn. Love Your World: How to Take Care of the Plants, Animals and the Planet.  DK Publishing, 2009.

Walsh, Melanie. 10 Things I Can Do to Help My World. Candlewick Press, 2012.

Ward, Helen. The Tin Forest. Dutton’s Children’s Books, 2001.

Willis, Jeanne. The Bog Baby. Schwartz & Wade Books, 2008.

Winter, Jonah. Here Comes the Garbage Barge. Schwartz & Wade Books, 2010.



Nature Drawing

The cover of The Tree Lady is amazing; ask students who they think and feel when they see the cover. Make sure to talk about the perspective of the illustrator. Then, have them think about a time when they were surrounded by nature and felt wonderful or completely at peace. Finish by having students draw a nature memory; make sure they think about the perspective from which they will draw the picture.

Write a Poem

Have students write the poem about Kate Sessions’ life using the facts from the book and making sure the poem is from her point of view. Have students begin each line with “I am… ” followed by various characteristics or events in the life of Kate Sessions.



Build a diorama of the San Diego area or Balboa Park either the way it looked before Kate Sessions starting planting trees or afterward. Make sure to have students focus on the plants and trees; use the illustrations from the book to help make the trees look as accurate as possible.

Historical Figures

Kate Sessions was interested in science at and was one of the first women to get a degree in science at the University of California. There were many other women who went against the norm and pursued subjects usually studied my men. Who were some of these other women and what contributions have they made over the years?

Caring Community

Host an Arbor Day celebration at your school. In addition to having students research and learn about trees around the world and those that thrive in your area, check with your school administrator to see about planting a tree in honor of Kate Sessions.

Tree Research

Choose one of the types of trees Kate brought from around the world to San Diego.  Write a mini research report about it. Present it to your class during Arbor Day.

2015-2016 California Young Reader Medal Resource Guide                The Tree Lady… - page