Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman is a story about transformation. It all begins in a vacant and abandoned lot in Cleveland, Ohio. The lot was filled with trash, the area was neglected, and the neighborhood became a haven for crime. There are many people that live in the apartment building that sits across from the vacant lot. Just as one might imagine, each person has a story to tell. Fleishcman is able to sow the seeds of thirteen different people into this book.
It all began one Sunday morning, in early April, when Kim wanted to be noticed and accepted by the father whom she never knew. He was a farmer when he lived in Vietnam. She dug a hole with a spoon in the hard soil and decided to plant six lima beans in the vacant lot. “In that vacant lot he would see me. He would see my patience and my hard work. I would show him that I could raise plants, as he had. I would show him that I was his daughter.”
Just as there are a variety of vegetables and flowers that grow in a garden, there are a variety of stories that go with each of the thirteen people that planted seeds in what is to become the garden. Over time, people from the neighborhood begin to claim their spot and plant their own seeds. However, people don’t say hi or even look at each other. People are speaking their own languages and going about their own business as usual.
Then we meet Sam who calls the lot “Paradise” from a Persian word which means “walled park.” He has a unique character. “You’ve seen fishermen mending the rips in their nets. That’s what I do, only with people. I used to try to patch up the whole world. For thirty- six years I worked for different groups promoting government, setting up conferences on pacifism, raising money, stuffing envelopes. Not that I’ve given up the fight. I’ve just switched battlefields from the entire planet to this corner of Cleveland.” However, as Sam stands up one day while gardening he notices that the people in the garden are segregated. The garden had replicated the neighborhood in which they lived. I began to think that the concept of community was impossible, even in the garden where all the varieties of vegetables and flowers are accepted and appreciated. There began to be tension as the homeless man came home to the lot only to find out that his couch was gone. People began to be protective of their areas with fences and signs.
There are many realistic issues in this book; loneliness, homelessness, aging, teen pregnancy, heritage, etc. However, through a garden people develop a community. At one time people would have crossed the street to avoid a neighbor, now they are sharing vegetables from their own garden with each other. A business man, who was trained to give nothing away, now has an excuse to break the rule.
Amir shares an interesting story as he talks to one of his neighbors in the garden as they are having a harvest festival. A year prior, the woman had accused Amir’s store of not giving her the proper change. She had become angry with Amir and called him a “dirty foreigner,” even though she was a foreigner herself. Now as Amir reminds her of the story she apologizes and says, “Back then I didn’t know it was you…..” What a profound statement! Isn’t that the whole problem? We never take the time to get to know people.
I thought it was interesting that a garden was used to help create this sense of community. I searched what a garden was symbolic of and found that a garden is “typically an earthly paradise. It is an archetypal image of the soul, of innocence, of happiness; it is a place for growth of the inner self.” http://www.umich.edu/~umfandsf/symbolismproject/symbolism.html/G/garden.html. I found that to be appropriate because the people that shared their stories had a part of them that was broken or hurting inside. What is so amazing though, is how that garden transformed their thoughts, helped heal their sadness, and helped people grow together as a community.
This is a well written book that gives you a snapshot of the lives of thirteen people in a community. There certainly are some controversial issues brought up that would encourage some conversations in a classroom. However, those same issues may be reason enough for a teacher not to share this book with the class. What would you do?