by Paul Fleischman
I found Seedfolks by accident, really.
I was searching my public library’s online catalog for another Paul Fleischman book, and Seedfolks popped up as well. I read a short description of it and decided to try it because I’m a sucker for point-of-view novels–I like the challenge (and the somehow subversive feeling) of piecing together a single story from multiple narratives.
The narratives in Seedfolks, as a matter of fact, are more than multiple–they’re many. The book consists of 13 short chapters, each one a different first-person account. The narrators are residents of an inner-city neighborhood, all telling the story of the creation of their block’s first community garden.
The story as a whole is inspiring for anyone. Catalyzed by a young girl’s effort to plant lima beans in a trash-filled vacant lot, people from various races and backgrounds join forces to clear the land and make a garden the whole neighborhood can enjoy.
Virtually every narrator has some major challenge to overcome. Some are physically hampered, others linguistically. Almost all are hard-working poor, living in constant danger of drive-by shootings and knifepoint muggings.
But they all find some way to contribute to the garden’s success, and in the process they improve their neighborhood, gain dignity and pride in their accomplishments, and build a support network with one another.
But of course, this blog isn’t just about inspiring books–it’s about inspiring books for girls, books that celebrate what women and girls can think, do, become. So what makes Seedfolks inspiring for girls in particular?
First, all the pivotal roles in the book go to women and girls. They make up 7 of the 13 narrators, and they are the ones who step up to make things happen at each critical juncture.
While the vacant lot is still covered in trash, a young Vietnamese girl (Kim) is the first to plant seeds. Her action piques the neighbors’ interest, and a black single mom (Leona) convinces City Hall to clear the lot so more people can plant. When the new gardens start dying because there is no easy way to water them, a young black girl and a middle-aged Korean widow (Sae Young) come up with an elegant solution.
These women and girls are the book’s catalysts, the doers without whom the garden would not survive–would not even exist in the first place.
And they’re joined by more inspiring women. An elderly Polish woman (Ana) who finds a way to encourage the garden’s growth, despite being apartment-bound. A pregnant Latina teen (Maricella) who finds hope for the first time in the garden. A retired black woman (Florence) who sees the garden as a reminder of her family’s proud pioneering history and uses it to reconnect with her community.
Even the men and boys, with their own inspiring stores, connect back to the women. Almost all of them point to some way the women or girls inspired them to participate, to enjoy the garden, to make life better for not just themselves but their whole neighborhood.
Wendell’s story is characteristic. Living in near-isolation after the deaths of his wife and son, he goes to the garden at the request of Ana, who lives in his building. In the garden, he encounters Kim and helps her water her plants. Later, he says, “There’s plenty about my life I can’t change. . . . But a patch of ground in this trashy lot–I can change that. Can change it big. Better to put my time into that than moaning about the other all day. That little grammar-school girl showed me that.”
Underlying the entire story is this notion that girls and women, regardless of race or age or wealth (or sometimes even intent), can be doers, movers and shakers, people who inspire. That’s certainly a mindset I want my daughter to have.