Monday, January 6, 2014

Nonfiction Picks - The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins

Hi friends! Glad to be back blogging with you after a bit of an absence over the holidays. Although we kept things pretty quiet (not ashamed to say we were all in bed before midnight New Year's Eve - that's just how we roll!), it's always the case that this time of year leaves few free moments. Still, it was lots of fun being together as a family.

Today I'm home with a sick kiddo and sneaking in a little blogging time in between cups of juice and chapters of The House at Pooh Corner (which Sprout loves, BTW). One of the goals I've long had for the blog is reviewing more nonfiction. To that end, I'm making it a point to include more nonfiction titles in our nightly reading with Sprout, and will be culling the best of the best to share here on the blog with you. As Sprout is a young scientist-in-the-making, it's great to support his burgeoning interests with books bursting with facts and information!

The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins, my pick for today, tells the true story of Kate Sessions, a young girl who is fascinated by trees. Growing up in Northern California in the 1860s, Kate was definitely not the image of young womanhood most folks had in mind. But she perservered, making it her life's work to study science and becoming the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a science degree. Energized from her studies, Kate accepted a job teaching in San Diego. But upon arriving in her new home, Kate was dismayed by what she found -- a dry and dusty desert town with very few trees anywhere.

No one thought San Diego could be any more than what it was. No one but Kate, that is. She began experimenting with growing different types of trees, eventually leaving her teaching job behind to pursue this work full-time. Kate traveled far and wide to find trees that would grow in San Diego, even writing other gardeners around the globe. She worked tirelessly to turn San Diego's barren landscape into a lush oasis -- which it remains to this day.

I loved The Tree Lady for lots of reasons, not least of which that it shows the impact that one person can have on his or her environment. It's easy to think that we can't do much on our own, but stories like that of Kate Sessions prove the opposite. The matter-of-fact way that Hopkins tells Kate's story adds to the charm; he doesn't dwell on the naysayers, of which I'm sure there were more than a few, but instead on Kate's determination to reach her goal. The illustrations by Jill McElmurry accompany the story beautifully, and really add to the sense of wonder in Kate's accomplishments. I'll admit that it was the striking cover image that drew me to this title initially, and the same vivid visuals carry the story forward throughout Kate's amazing life.

If you're looking to expand your horizons beyond the stable of familiar characters, try wandering over to the nonfiction shelves in your library or bookstore. There you'll find incredible books like The Tree Lady, along with plenty more that will keep your little ones turning pages. Because after all, real life can be even more compelling than fiction!

Ages 5-8
Source: Library
Sample: "Trees seemed to Kate like giant umbrellas that sheltered her and the animals, birds, and plants that lived in the forest. Not everyone feels at home in the woods. But Kate did."


Cathy Ballou Mealey said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your review - this is a fantastic book! I appreciated the chance to learn more about a city that I have not yet visited, and a woman who helped make it more beautiful!

PragmaticMom said...

Wow, I grew up near San Diego and had no idea that one woman planted all those trees!!!