In Mary’s Garden & The Slippers’ Keeper: Picture Books Celebrating Those Who Really SEE the World

BookendsIn Mary's GardenCindy: Just about everyone has picked up a seashell or a piece of driftwood or sea glass while walking on the beach. Yet how many of us would recognize a “marvelous creature” washed up on the beach, if it was only “just a little piece of him?” In their picture-book biography, In Mary’s Garden (2015), Tina and Carson Kügler introduce us to Wisconsin artist Mary Nohl. As a schoolgirl, Mary took woodworking classes instead of cooking and helped her father build their house on the Lake Michigan shore. She later traveled and became an artist who saw big potential in small pieces, such as the driftwood and other objects that washed up on her beach.

That first magnificent creature seemed lonely, so Mary and her dogs found others waiting to be built, and over the years her yard filled up with her controversial art. Her affluent neighbors didn’t like the traffic or the “eyesore” and in 2014 the Kohler Foundation decided to move the statues and house to Sheboygan. Now, however, it looks like that is not going to happen and the whole thing will stay in situ. It’s been there since the family built it in 1924 and probably makes the neighborhood a whole lot more interesting. The author’s note includes a few photos of Mary and her art outside her house. Apparently she filled the inside with art, too, painting every surface, including the carpet—it hid the cracker crumbs!

Art or eyesore? Treasure or trash?
I think Mary’s a kindred spirit.

What a great story to share with young artists. Read it and then pull out a box of gathered items for a perfect makerspace program. You can show photos from her yard and ask for opinions on her creations. Art or eyesore? Treasure or trash?  I think Mary’s a kindred spirit, and I am off to walk my side of Lake Michigan’s beaches, searching for creatures waiting to be made whole.

keeperLynn: Cindy’s book and the one I am writing about celebrate people who really SEE the world around them. So many of us rush through our days, too busy or preoccupied with our schedules or worries to take notice of the world around us. Thank goodness for these rare souls! Some of them bring forth unique art or even assumption-shattering scientific ideas. Still others have the foresight to understand the critical nature of protecting what they see.

Ian Wallace brings just such a person to life for children with his gorgeous picture book The Slippers’ Keeper (2015). Joe Purdon was only 13 when a teacher showed his class a rare and unusual plant in their Eastern Ontario schoolyard. The Showy Lady’s Slipper has neither nectar nor the ability to pollinate itself, its survival depending instead on wandering bees to blunder into its beautiful blossoms. When Joe found a group of these lovely plants on his family farm in the late 1920s, he knew they needed his help. His father was skeptical—after all, flowers didn’t put food on the table. But Joe’s mother supported him, and Joe was allowed to pursue his efforts after completing his schoolwork and chores. Conservation was rare in those times, so young Joe was a special person, indeed. His dedication became a lifetime commitment and eventually his hard work produced the largest colony of Showy Lady Slippers in North America.

Ian Wallace’s gorgeous, verdant watercolor illustrations celebrate the time and place as well as this foresighted and courageous man. Joe Purdon’s legacy lives on in the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority. We owe thanks to both Joe Purdon for his work and Ian Wallace for bringing us this wonderful story!

Cindy: I just looked up the Purdon Conservation Area and it isn’t far from Prince Edward Island, a place this Anne of Green Gables fan has always wanted to visit. The trip will have to be in June so I can take in the Lady Slippers show as well. Another option is to check Twitter—the MVCA tweets out orchid bloom updates from @purdonorchids.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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