June 27, 2015

The Slippers' Keeper

by Ian Wallace
Groundwood Books
36 pp.
Ages 5-8
April 2015

I should have reviewed The Slippers’ Keeper in April when it first came out, as its inclusion on any list of picture books related to Earth Day and conservationism would have been more than appropriate.  The book cheers those like Joe Purdon, the subject of The Slippers’ Keeper, who against the odds continue to embrace nature as it is and should be, not as we can manipulate it to be.  And Ian Wallace’s retelling of Purdon’s story from childhood to his passing is an inspirational one for sharing the magnificence of nature and the propriety of saving it.

Born in 1914 into an Eastern Ontario farm family, Joe Purdon became enamoured by the natural world he trekked with his dog, Laddie.  The forests, the fens, the animals, birds, insects and plants were all integral to enriching his life.  Discovery of a small patch of eight Showy Lady’s Slipper plants, which he had just recently learned take 5-7 years to flower, has Joe at cross-purposes with his father who cannot see the value of nurturing that which isn’t a crop or food source. 

But, in his free time, Joe cares for the small population of plants, monitoring water levels, hand pollinating, clearing away hazards and predators, and thinning trees.  As he grows older, taking over the family farm, but turning to more word-working and maple-syrup production, Joe’s orchid population continues to multiply.  He passes that love of nature and the Showy Lady’s Slippers onto his youngest child, Rhodena.  Ultimately, that population which grows to thousands is entrusted to the local conservation authority to ensure its perpetuity.

The ethereal nature of Ian Wallace’s watercolour and pencil illustrations convey the earthly and wholesome spirit the natural world and Joe Purdon’s quest to conserve a small piece of heaven on earth.  Yet, the accurate details in the Showy Lady’s Slippers that adorn the fen’s groundcover are reminiscent of any botanical print of Redouté or Curtis.  Ian Wallace’s story of Joe Purdon’s heroic efforts at conservationism is in itself a splendid endeavour to enlighten, ecologically and aesthetically. 

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