Fleischman, Paul. Seedfolks. New York: Joanna Cotler Books-HarperCollins, 1997. Print.
Thirteen unrelated voices come together one at a time narrating the evolution of an inner-city community garden from a garbage-ridden empty lot. When a young Vietnamese girl plants some lima beans as an offering to the father she never knew, she unknowingly begins a movement and inspires her community to join her in changing the empty space. Friendships grow along with the plants as characters such as a British nurse and her stroke-affected elderly patient, a pregnant teenager, a son of a Haitian taxi-driver, a lovesick former bodybuilder, and a feisty community advocate describe their experiences with the project. Each shares their hopes and worries, solve problems, and begin to care for each other and their neighborhood. The harvest celebration at the end of the summer is evidence of how far they’ve come.
A vacant lot (and the neighborhood surrounding it) in contemporary Cleveland, Ohio.
Point of View:
13 different 1st person voices
Community pride, responsibility, self-sustenance, bridging differences, immigrants, gardening.
Each character’s story is developed in a single vignette marked by their first name and an illustration of their face at the beginning of the chapter. Their viewpoints eventually overlap with experiences of other people in the community. There is not a conflict to hold the story together or create a plot around and the characters receive one opportunity to speak their minds. It is up to the reader to piece together the story and see the interconnectivity. The text is succinctly written and layered with humor, prejudice, strength, and growing understanding.
Though Paul Fleischman had never lived in the Cleveland neighborhood he described, he had other life experience with multiethnic cities. His characters are diverse and life-like, each having depth and their own histories. He did research and talked to people about community gardens and the city of Cleveland. The inclusion of multiple cultures and immigrant groups is a celebration of the diversity that composes many urban communities.
This book would be appropriate for middle school readers. The brevity of the text lends itself well to read-alouds and may also appeal to reluctant older readers. Upper elementary readers could probably handle the book, though some of the characters’ issues may be of less interest (such as teen-pregnancy or wooing an ex-girlfriend).
Reading this book was a delightful experience for me. There is a small community garden not far from where I live that I often run by. I have never stopped to talk to any of the gardeners, but I am curious to know how they have procured their own space in it. I am a notorious plant-killer and have had very little luck with my own houseplants, but now I am kind of inspired to try again. Perhaps with the help of the natural elements and a small space (like a pot on my deck) I might be successful growing my own herbs or something. I really appreciated Fleischman’s inclusion of all kinds of community members that might come together and grow through such an experience. I especially liked Leona, who figured it “wasn’t a job for no wheelbarrow. This was a job for the telephone” and then she went to task calling the city to get the garbage cleaned up. (Given my history with plants, I would probably have been more useful on the phone like that too…) Each person had something to offer!