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.

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