I lost two this year. In northern Michigan our ash trees are dying. The woodcutters with their chain saws, chippers and stump grinders can barely keep up with the demand. Walking through the neighborhood, even before autumn, huge trunks soaring skyward, branches outstretched, were without leaves. It's disheartening to think of losing another member of the tree family.
Katherine Olivia Sessions grew up in the woods of Northern California.
It was not typical in the 1860s for a girl to feel more comfortable among trees than any other place; her greatest pleasure fashioning necklaces and bracelets from leaves and needles. At school, though excelling in all subjects, science was her favorite. Clearly Katherine Olivia Sessions was ignoring what was expected,
When she was old enough, her fascination with trees lead her to study their intricate structure and place on our planet at college. Kate was the first woman to graduate with a degree in science from the University of California in 1881. Without a doubt Katherine Olivia Sessions was a woman who knew her own mind.
For two years she taught school in San Diego, California as well holding the position of vice principal. The nearby City Park was nearly void of vegetation. It was more a place for cattle and garbage; not exactly a welcoming area for trees. With determination Katherine Olivia Sessions decided to bring what she loved most to the people and land of San Diego.
In 1909 an announcement was made. Something spectacular was coming to San Diego; to be held in Balboa Park, the former City Park. What began with letters and travels continued with helping hands to succeed in creating an oasis of greenery. Always believing she could, Katherine Olivia Sessions transformed her corner of the world.
Much like Katherine Olivia Sessions, observation, curiosity and research lead H. Joseph Hopkins to write this book. Focusing on those attributes which set her apart not only as a woman but as a person, Hopkins gives life to a name. Paragraph by paragraph our admiration grows. Choosing to end each page's text with a short affirmation about the mind set of Kate, unifies the narrative. It gives a cadence of sorts to this title. It is a sign of a good storyteller; the kind for whom we will give our undivided attention. Here is an example.
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.
I don't know about you but seeing the front jacket of this book, makes me want join the girl in the forest; the treetop view in shades of greens and browns is peaceful and enchanting. Upon removing the jacket Jill McElmurry has chosen to show a portrait of Kate wearing her necklace of leaves and needles, a look of serenity, of confidence, on her face. Warm and inviting, opening and closing endpapers are colored in a rich, solid chocolate brown.
An older Katherine Olivia Sessions is placed between the title, author and illustrator names, circled by one of her signature necklaces on the title page. For most of this book lush, period paintings, rendered in gouache on cold-pressed watercolor paper, span two pages, edge-to-edge. Opposite five single or single plus pages crossing the gutter, McElmurry has added pertinent personal elements, muddy handprints, plant specimens labeled in Latin, a microscope with slide views, addressed, stamped envelopes sent to the far corners of the world and long-handled garden tools. Two of my favorite illustrations, in addition to the two page replication of the jacket, is of everyone working to plant the thousands of trees in Balboa Park and the single page close-up of an elder Kate working among the trees, pruning shears in hand.
I certainly hope this is the first of many books written by H. Joseph Hopkins. He and Jill McElmurry have presented readers with a masterful, picture book biography in The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever. This is the kind of book that says to readers pursue your passion, your ideas are important and never discount the effect of a single person.
The final page contains an extended Author's Note. In his special thanks H. Joseph Hopkins lists those people and resources used. To learn more about Jill McElmurry follow the link embedded in her name above. By going to the publisher's website here, you can see more pages from the book.