The Lady's Slipper

Published in 2017; author Emma Carlson Berne; illustrators Julie Kolesova and Michael Dwornik


Melody and her cousin Val meet a teenager named Leah at a meeting of the Fair Housing Committee. Leah isn't black; she's Jewish--Melody is surprised to learn that Jewish families faced the same sort of housing discrimination that her cousin's family did, and a Jewish man helped found the NAACP. Melody and Leah quickly become friends, but Val, who saw the violence black children who befriended white children were subjected to her in her hometown, is more reticent. Melody continues getting to know Leah, and Leah's botanist grandfather as well. He escaped the Nazis in Poland, bringing with him a rare orchid cutting, which survived the trip and is still thriving. But due to the starvation and other hardships in occupied Poland, Leah's grandfather has a weak heart and is rapidly getting sicker. Leah is saving her baby-sitting money to fly him to New York City for treatment, but he's refusing to go.

Meanwhile, Melody's grandfather and other flower shop owners in the area are throwing a soiree at the conservatory. Melody helps her grandfather set up, and he shows her some of the rare orchids in the collection. The next morning, five of those orchids have been stolen, and Melody's grandfather is taken aside by the police for questioning--no one else, just the black man. He does eventually come back to his flower booth, but Melody is upset. After all, her grandfather is still a suspect, and the flowers are each worth hundreds of dollars (easily pushing the crime to felony theft), and her grandfather's flower shop is the main source of income for Melody's extended family. Leah is upset as well. She finds out when she comes with her grandfather, scheduled to give a speech about orchids the next evening. Since the conservatory's most expensive orchids are currently missing, Leah's grandfather offers to bring his own rare one.

The evening of the speech, Leah seems miserable. Melody and Val are concerned that she's sick, and quickly grow more concerned when they see a man arguing with her and grabbing her violently. Shortly after they witness this, Leah falls into the stand holding her grandfather's orchid, and the curator rushes the plant out to repot it. Melody and Val follow, and see the man who was grabbing Leah trying to take the orchid!

Soon the truth comes out: knowing it would take too long to save enough baby-sitting money to cover a trip to New York City and the cost of the treatment, Leah stole the orchids for the man to sell. He was really after her grandfather's rare one, so Leah had been trying to keep its existence secret, claiming the plant had died. When he saw it at the soiree, things escalated. Leah's grandfather reassures her that although no specialist has been able to reverse the damage done decades before, he has had a long and happy life--something many Jews in Nazi-occupied territory could never have. Being a minor, Leah will likely have to serve some community service for her part in the thefts, and the man who orchestrated it all will face stiffer charges. Melody's grandfather, of course, is cleared of any suspicion.

Inside Melody's World

Most of the story takes place on Belle Isle, an island in the Detroit River. It's home to a zoo, an aquarium, a museum, a golf course, monuments, and the conservatory mentioned in the book. It's a popular vacation spot for Detroit residents. The conservatory has an impressive orchid collection, 600 of them donated by Anna Scripps Whitcomb, an heiress who brought them to the United States from Europe during World War II. She not only saved them from destruction during the war (many, many treasures were lost in addition to the terrible loss of human life), but from poachers. Even today, there are orchids that sell for thousands of dollars, and poachers who will try to steal them.


Dedicated to Henry, "the next reader in our family." Also acknowledged: Tom Mirenda, the Orchid Collection Specialists for Smithsonian Gardens, for his endless patience in answering so very many questions. And sincere thanks to Tim Culbertson, for helping me to understand the intricate and fascinating history of orchids."

Melody's grandfather mentions that a lot of important cultural artifacts were destroyed by bombs during World War II. One such specimen was a fossilized skeleton of Spinosaurus that was said to be bigger than a Tyrannosaurus. But with the bones and measurements destroyed, the claim can't be verified.

There's a subplot of Val being jealous of Melody and Leah's new friendship, in part because of how dangerous it would have been for Val to befriend a white girl back in Alabama.


The Runaway

Published in 2017; author Alison Hart; illustrators Julie Kolesova and Michael Dwornik


One evening after dinner, Maryellen notices that the family's dachshund, Scooter, is missing. And he's not the only dog; at least three more are missing in the neighborhood. Furthermore, Maryellen spots the ice cream man luring a dog into his truck! Or at least, she thinks she does--she's not sure enough to report the incident to the police or anything like that. She and her friends Karen King and Karen Stohlman start an investigation. They do discover that the ice cream man has dog treats in his truck, but he says they're to entice the dogs in the neighborhood to not follow him when he drives off. But he does mention a strange care he's seen driving around with "Bark Haven" written on the side.

Maryellen makes plans to go to Bark Haven, a pet shelter, with her friend Davy. He brings along his friend, Wayne, and the three ride to the shelter, but they are brusquely turned away by a woman at the front desk. A surreptitious detour to the dogs' kennels reveals no dachshunds or other breeds matching the descriptions of the missing ones. But then they see a car labeled "Barkhaven" (not Bark Haven) along the road--and the driver trying to get a dog into it! They thwart the pet-napping and get the car's license plate, and go back to the pet shelter. Now there's a dalmatian. One of the missing dogs is a dalmatian. Maryellen takes her information to the police, but an officer warns her that even if a pet-napper is caught, there aren't many laws that would do much--pets simply aren't a priority in the 1950s.

Then Maryellen hears about dogs being used as test subjects in space flights. She has a crazy thought--could Scooter be at Cape Canaveral, training to be shot into space? Since she needs a science topic for a school project anyway, she gets her dad to take her to visit Cape Canaveral (she gets permission from a tour from the Air Force). The tour is amazing and informative, but doesn't yield any dogs: the US is focused on unmanned space flight, and no living creatures are being used as test subjects. However, the lieutenant giving the tour mentions that some animals are used to test makeup, medicine, or other such products.

When Maryellen gets home, her mother tells her that the police station called--the Barkhaven car is a stolen vehicle. Her friends Karen, Karen, and Angela arrive soon after, having just formed a detective service for missing animals. Davy and Wayne join, and soon they find themselves at Daytona Pharmaceuticals, where Scooter's collar is in the trash. Another visit to Bark Haven reveals that the owner, Miss Hopkins, suspects someone is using the Bark Haven name to steal animals and sell them for testing. She's fairly certain another clandestine delivery of animals is happening that evening. They all go to the police, who set up a sting. The police tell Maryellen and her friends to stay away, but they can't help themselves. Even Miss Hopkins and Maryellen's mother come along. Sure enough, they find the missing dogs, Scooter included.

A few days later, Maryellen's mother breaks the news that they won a jingle-writing contest, the prize being a year's supply of dog food! Maryellen immediately suggests they donate the food to Bark Haven.

Inside Maryellen's World

Entering jingle-writing contests was a big thing in the 1950s. One woman , Evelyn Ryan, won so many prizes that she was able to support her family of ten and keep them out of poverty (her story was made into the book and movie The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio). Also prevalent at the time was animal testing, including stealing animals for that purpose. While many products are still tested on animals today, laws are in place that require the animals be specifically bred for testing and be treated as humanely as possible. Many industries are shying away from testing--while some medicines need trials on living things, makeup is less likely to need animal testing.


Special thanks are given to Judy Woodburn.

Maryellen and her mother have been entering seveal jingle-writing contests. Other prizes they win include a year's supply of cereal from one, and five bike bells from another.

About ten pages in, I was reminded of Dawn and the Disappearing Dogs.

There are some grammatical errors that I think an editor should have caught, like missing commas and tense problems.

The first dog in space, Laika, died there. The Soviets didn't have the technology to bring her back at that point. Later animals returned safely, in both the Soviet and US space programs: dogs, primates, and insects.