The Tree Lady

The Tree Lady – The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry



Kate Sessions grew up in the woods of Northern California in the 1860’s.  Kate loved exploring the woods and didn’t mind getting dirty while playing.  In the 1860’s girls were not encouraged to study science.  But, Kate wanted to learn.



“Kate felt the trees were her friends.  She loved the way they reached toward the sky and how their branches stretched wide to catch the light.”

In 1881, Kate graduated from the University of California – the first woman to earn a degree in science from that university.  She took a teaching job in San Diego after graduation and found that town to be a desert-like place with very few trees.

After two years, Kate left teaching and worked to find trees that would grow in the dry soil.  She requested seeds from gardeners all over the world, and went to Mexico to hunt for trees that might thrive in San Diego.

Before long, Kate had a tree nursery – and her trees were planted all over town.  In 1909, the city officials announced the Panama-California Exposition would come to San Diego in 1915.  In preparation for this, they wanted more trees for the city park, Balboa Park.  Kate felt Balboa Park needed thousands more trees.  She invited friends to help and held tree-planting parties.

When the Exposition opened in 1915, Balboa Park had millions of trees and plants.  Visitors marveled at the wonderful plants and gardens and strolled in the cool shade.  Kate was given many awards over her lifetime, and continued working with and planting trees until her death in 1940.

“Back then, few could have imagined that San Diego would become the lush, leafy city it is today.  But all along, year after year, Katherine Olivia Sessions did.”

This is wonderful picture book about a woman who changed a desert town into a city filled with plants and trees – with the act of planting trees.  She was called “The Mother of Balboa Park.”  Kate Sessions used her courage, her love of trees, and her scientific knowledge to do this.  The author included a page with more detailed information about Kate Sessions.  A good book to share!

Groundhog Day 2014

groundhogdaybookToday Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, predicting 6 more weeks of winter.

How does Phil know what to do?  How does he gain his weather-predicting skills?  Perhaps he attended Groundhog Weather School as presented by Joan Holub and illustrated by Kristin Sorra.

This clever picture book is packed full of interesting facts about groundhogs, weather, shadows, and seasons.  There is a spread on famous ‘Furry Hognosticators,’ like Punxsutawney Phil, from various parts of the United States.  A final page includes more information about how Groundhog Day began.

Groundhog Weather School presents all this information in a fun, colorful format – a graphic novel/comic book style – that gives information without seeming to overload the reader.  Groundhog Weather School is an excellent choice to share with children – even into the upper grade school years due to its format and information.



No by Claudia Rueda

noNo is a fun picture book that celebrates a child’s independent spirit.  Of course, in this case, the child is a brown bear cub.

“It’s time to go to sleep,” said mother bear.

“No,” said little bear.  “I don’t want to go to sleep.”

So begins the story….with mother bear telling little bear that it will get cold, there will not be any food, winter is long, and the snow will be deep.  Little bear responds that he is not cold, he saved some food, he doesn’t mind a long winter, and he loves snow.

The adventurous cub stays out in a snowstorm building a snowman while his mother goes into their cave.  The snow comes down harder, and the wind blows.  Little bear calls out for his mother and looks for their cave.  When he finds her, little bear tells her: “Winter is very long and you might get lonely.”

The last page shows mother bear and little bear snuggled up together in their cave with snow falling outside.

Rueda’s illustrations are large and simple – yet they convey the bear’s emotions, and help tell the story.

This is a good book to share with young children – especially ones who like to do things their own way.

December 21 – The Winter Solstice

solsticebookThe Shortest Day – Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer, illustrated by Jesse Reisch

Why does it get dark earlier at night in Winter than in Summer?  What is Solstice?  Pfeffer addresses these questions and others in this colorful book about the Winter Solstice.

In the Northern Hemisphere, near December 21, the sun reaches its lowest point on the horizon – making that day the shortest day of the year, or the day with the least amount of daylight.

This day is called the Winter Solstice.  It marks the beginning of Winter.  Humans have recognized this time of the year for thousands of years.  Long, long ago people didn’t know about the Earth’s rotation, tilting, and orbit.  They just knew that they had less and less daylight.  Some thought evil spirits caused the sun to go away, and held ceremonies asking their gods to bring back the sun.  Later people discovered patterns in shadows, or in the sun’s position on the horizon.  They celebrated the shortest day of the year because it meant the days of more light were returning.

Today people still celebrate at the beginning of winter by decorating their houses, lighting the darkness, gathering together, and exchanging gifts.


They no longer worry that the sun will disappear forever.  People know that days get colder when their part of the earth tilts away from the sun.


For more than 5,000 years, people have welcomed the Winter Solstice because it’s a new beginning.


Pfeffer’s text takes readers on a journey from early peoples fearing that the sun will disappear forever, through history to the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Romans, through England and Ireland of 1,000 years ago, to more recent times – with Sweden’s St. Lucia’s Day.

The book includes several pages with Solstice facts, information about the Earth’s tilting as it orbits the sun (including Summer Solstice, Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, and Autumn Equinox).  Activities include charting sunrise and sunset, measuring shadows, noting the position of the sun over the year, and a way to demonstrate the tilt of the Earth making seasons.

This is an excellent book for children in preschool through grade school — with interesting illustrations, and factual information.

Happy Winter Solstice, everyone!

(I first published a review of this book in December 2012)

Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?

Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

WhoSaysWomenDoctorsWhen Elizabeth Blackwell was a child, in the 1830’s, women were expected to become teachers, seamstresses, or wives and mothers.  They were not supposed to become doctors.

As a girl, Elizabeth Blackwell didn’t talk about becoming a doctor – she didn’t like blood, and hated being sick.  But, she was a spirited girl with courage.  She “wanted to explore around every corner and….never walked away from a challenge.”

When Elizabeth Blackwell was twenty-four, she visited a friend who was very ill – and who encouraged Elizabeth Blackwell to become a doctor.

“At first, Elizabeth could not believe her ears.  Even if a girl could be a doctor, why would she want to be one?  But Mary’s idea gnawed at Elizabeth.  A female doctor.”

Elizabeth Blackwell thought about the idea a great deal.  Her family supported the idea.  So, she worked as a teacher to earn money and began applying to medical schools.  She did not get enthusiastic responses.

“Twenty-eight Nos in all.  In different ways, the letters all said the same thing:  Women cannot be doctors.  They should not be doctors.”

She was accepted at Geneva Medical School in New York state.  The people in the town stared at her and whispered.  The other students didn’t want her to be there.  Eventually, with much hard work, she proved herself – and she graduated (in 1849) with the highest grades in the class.

Marjorie Priceman’s bright illustrations complement the text.  This is a good book to share and use as a starting point for discussions of limitations, women’s rights, gender roles, and the classic “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

The book has two pages of additional information about Elizabeth Blackwell.  The reader learns that after she graduated from medical school, no one would hire her.  Eventually, Elizabeth Blackwell opened a free clinic in New York City, and taught people about cleanliness and staying healthier.  Elizabeth and her sister, Emily (who also became a doctor), started their own hospital, The New York Infirmary for Women and Children – the first hospital run by women, for women.  Elizabeth Blackwell later opened a medical school for women in New York, helped create the London School of Medicine for Women in England, and helped start the National Health Society.  She died in 1910 at the age of eighty-nine.  Today over half of all medical school students in the United States are women.

Grandma Drove the Snowplow

Grandma Drove the Snowplow by Katie Clark, illustrated by Amy Huntington

GrandmaDroveSnowplowBilly and Grandma are baking cookies and listening to the radio in the kitchen on the day of the Carol Sing.  The radio brreeps in with an emergency broadcast warning of blizzard conditions and up to two feet of snow.

Grandma runs the snowplow business in their small town.  She tells Billy not to worry, that the plows are out doing their work.

“And for everyone in town there was no bigger winter celebration than the Carol Sing.  Starting the day after Thanksgiving people baked cookies, practiced songs, and knit pairs and pairs of mittens for the mitten tree.  They hadn’t missed a Carol Sing for as long as anyone could remember.”

The telephone rings and, after speaking for a minute, Grandma tells Billy that Buster is stuck in a snow bank and can’t get the truck unstuck – so he can’t plow the roads in time for the Carol Sing.

The telephone rings again, and Grandma tells Billy that Burt is stuck in a ditch and can’t get his truck out – so he can’t plow the roads either.

Grandma’s other son and snowplow driver, Bill, has his leg in a cast – and can’t drive to plow the roads either.

Billy hands Grandma the keys to a snowplow telling her they have a job to do, and they set off.  Grandma drives the snowplow, but not very carefully.  They help their neighbors out, and plow the streets in time for the Carol Sing.

But, by the time they arrive at the Carol Sing, the snowplow has picked up a wreath, some holiday lights, and an evergreen tree.  The townspeople use these to decorate for the Carol Sing – and put mittens on the tree.

This is a cute book with a touch of silliness mixed with a small town sense of community.  Amy Huntington’s illustrations show a small town with New England character blanketed in snow – and complement the text well.  This is Grandma’s second adventure – in Grandma Drove the Garbage Truck, Grandma and Billy collect the town’s garbage in time for the Fourth of July Parade, running into a few things along the way and winning the prize for most creative float (available at Amazon).

Flora’s Very Windy Day

Flora’s Very Windy Day by Jeanne Birdsall, illustrated by Matt Phelan

FlorasVeryWindyDayFlora got upset when her little brother, Crispin, knocked over her paints, again.  Their mother sent them outside to play.

Flora protested, saying that the wind was so strong it would blow her away.  Then Flora said:  “Of course, I could wear my super-special heavy-duty red boots.  They’ll keep me from being blown away.”

They bundled up, and Flora put on her special red boots. Crispin had only regular purple boots that “couldn’t do anything but keep his feet dry.”

The wind blew, but Flora laughed at it and told it that she was wearing her special red boots so it couldn’t blow her away.  The wind blew harder, but Flora laughed at it.

“However,” said Flora, “you may notice that my little brother is wearing regular old purple boots.”

So the wind blew harder still, and lifted Crispin off the ground.  Flora realized that her little brother was being blown away.  She kicked off her special red boots, and went sailing up after Crispin, and held on to his hand as they were blown away together.  They were frightened at first, but soon realized that the wind was comfortable, like “riding along on a squishy flying chair.”

Several different things approached Flora, asking her to give them Crispin:  a dragonfly, a sparrow, a rainbow, a cloud, an eagle, and the man in the moon.  Each time, Flora said no, “He’s my brother and I’m taking him home.”

Finally Flora asked the wind to let them go home.  The wind replied it would as soon as it found the right spot for Crispin, since Flora wanted to get rid of him.  Flora realized that she didn’t really want Crispin to go away, and the wind took them home.

There likely are times in the lives of most young older siblings when they wish (even briefly) that they didn’t have a younger sibling.  Underneath that momentary frustration, they really don’t wish any harm to the toddler or baby…’s just hard to remember when paints are knocked over, favorite stuffed animals are being chewed on, or a grown-up is busy with baby.  This is a very sweet book showing a big sister who realizes that she really does love her brother.


The Matchbox Diary

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

the matchbox diaryA young girl visits her great-grandfather for the first time ever.  The girl looks around the room – full of books, boxes, collections, photos, antiques.  The great-grandfather says,

Pick whatever you like the most.  Then I’ll tell you its story.

The girl brings the old man a cigar box full of matchboxes.  The old man tells her the box is full of stories – that it is his diary.

When the girl asks what a diary is, the old man replies:

A way to remember what happens to you.  Usually it’s a book people write in.  When I was your age, I had a lot I wanted to remember, but I couldn’t read or write.  So I started this.  Open the first one.

Each matchbox contains a small object that holds a memory for the old man.  He shares them with the girl.

The first matchbox has an olive pit.  The old man tells of when he was a child in Italy and his family was terribly poor.  His mother would give him an olive pit to suck on when he was hungry if the didn’t have enough food.

One matchbox has a ticket to his first baseball game – in the United States – that he went to with his father.  Another matchbox has printer’s letters – and the old man tells about learning typesetting and working with a printing press.

The final picture shows the girl in a seat on an airplane, putting two objects into compartments in an empty chocolates (or something like that) box – one of them is a printer’s letter.

Through saved objects and stories from memories, readers learn about the life of the old man – from a poor boy in Italy, to traveling to the United State on a ship, to Ellis Island, to time as a migrant worker, to learning to read and write, to learning printing as a trade, and owning a bookshop.

This is a book with a sense of mystery and of history.  It is also a story of a great-grandfather and great-granddaughter getting to know each other.


International Dot Day

International Dot Day – September 15

interntl dot dayToday is International Dot Day, “a global celebration of creativity, courage and collaboration.”  This creative celebration was inspired by the book, The Dot, by Peter H. Reynolds.

A teacher’s guide, some videos, Celibri-dots blog (dot images by authors, illustrators, and other famous folks), and a gallery of images of creative projects folks have done in the past to celebrate International Dot Day.  To learn more about International Dot Day, or to find ideas for activities, visit the website:

Bookworm Bear loves Peter H. Reynolds books.  We’ve reviewed The Dot and Ish here – they are well worth looking for at local libraries and bookstores.

Dot cover smallIsh


First Day Jitters

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg, illustrated by Judy Love

FirstDayJittersIt is the first day of school.  Sarah Jane Hartwell hides under her covers and says she isn’t going to school.  It’s a new school, and she doesn’t know anyone there – and she doesn’t want to go.

“That’s just it.  I don’t know anybody, and it will be hard, and…I just hate it, that’s all.”

Mr. Hartwell tries saying different things to reassure her, and to get her out of bed.  Finally Sarah tumbles out of bed and gets dressed.

Mr. Hartwell drives her to school.  Her hands feel cold and clammy.  She is nervous.  Mr. Hartwell points out the school principal.

“You’ll love your new school once you get started….There’s your principal, Mrs. Burton.”

Mrs. Burton shows Sarah to her classroom, reassuring her along the way through the crowded hallways.

“Don’t worry.  Everyone is nervous the first day.”

Then, Mrs. Burton introduces Sarah to the class.  And, in a nice twist, we learn that Sarah is the teacher.

This is a fun picture book for the start of a new school year, or for children switching schools after the school year has started.  The illustrations don’t show enough of Sarah for the reader to guess that she is an adult – keeping the surprise until the end. Sometimes it helps if children know that even teachers get nervous the first day of school.  A good picture book to share as the start of school approaches.