________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 26. . . .March 13, 2015


The Slippers’ Keeper.

Ian Wallace.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi Press, 2015.
32 pp., hardcover & pdf, $17.95 (hc.), $14.95 (pdf).
ISBN 978-1-55498-414-5 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-415-2 (pdf).

Subject Headings:
Purdon, Joe, 1914-1982-Juvenile literature.
Slipper orchids-Protection-Ontario-Juvenile literature.
Conservationists-Canada-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Ellen Heaney.

*** /4



Ian Wallace is one of the grand masters on the Canadian picture book scene. He has illustrated other authors’ works (Celia Lottridge, Jan Andrews and even Rudyard Kipling) as well as being an author in his own right. This is his 25th published work.

internal art     The Slippers’ Keeper is more of a botany lesson than a picture story. It focuses on the early interest of Canadian Joe Purdon in the science of the propagation of the wild orchid called the Showy Lady’s Slipper.

      Young Joe is a student of one of those time-honoured figures, the caring and interested teacher in a small rural school. Miss McIntyre takes her class on a nature walk which begins to engender Purdon’s lifelong passion for a beautiful native flower.

“What you are looking at is a wonder,” she said. “The Showy Lady’s Slipper doesn’t have nectar and can’t pollinate itself, so it depends on an inquisitive bee or insect stumbling into its pouch.”

Joe swatted away a deer fly for the umpteenth time that afternoon.

“As remarkable, it takes seven to fifteen years for a plant to bloom even though it produces fifteen to thirty-five thousand seeds in a single pod every year. Can you imagine that?”

     Joe’s fascination with the flower takes over his out of school hours. He takes delight in passing his knowledge along to his mother and sister. He tries to make more hospitable habitat for the plant by transplantation and clearing undergrowth. He pollinates the flowers by hand. He chases off animals that want to feed on the Lady’s Slippers.

Gradually, his efforts brought rewards.

The Showy Lady’s Slippers multiplied, their rhizomes spreading like veins through the peaty earth. Not all at once, but in clusters that became colonies, they spread with the doggedness of time ticking through the decades.

     The text includes much detail about the Lady’s Slipper, itself, and about Purdon’s efforts to nurture its survival. The book is illustrated with watercolours that describe the landscape of Eastern Ontario and the era – the 1920’s and 1930’s – in soft tones of green, brown and blue.

      Appended material gives biographical and historical information about Purdon’s passion, including the fact that today the Mississippi Valley Conservation authority protects the orchids and pays tribute to this self-taught Canadian naturalist.

      Because The Slippers’ Keeper looks like a picture book but is not aimed at the usual picture book audience, this special work is recommended for larger library collections.


Ellen Heaney is a retired children’s librarian living in Coquitlam, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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