Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman

I came across this book one day while shopping for books for a young person in which I hoped to inspire an interest in reading. I did not pick this book for her because I did not think that she would be interested in gardens or gardening but I made a note of it for myself. It is a very slim volume and on the cover are the faces of residents of a Cleveland neighborhood. Seedfolks tells the story of a vacant and abandoned lot in this city. It is filled with trash, neglected, and has become a haven for crime. The residents are not proud of it, some do not even take notice, others are overwhelmed by the stench and still others are overwhelmed with anger that people outside of the neighborhood use it as a dumping ground. It starts with a young Vietnamese girl who plants 6 beans in an attempt to honor her father who was a farmer. She digs with a spoon through hard ground, nestles in her lima beans, and waters them. It is April.

Like the variety of produce and flowers planted the gardeners are themselves varied, young children, an older woman who has watched the lot from her window since the early 1900s and recent arrivals to Cleveland. Some know how to care for a garden and others do not. Each chapter is told from the point of view of different gardeners and passerby. They each have their own reasons for stopping to work in the garden-good things are contagious. Each is inspired by others and it started with the first seed planted. We are with the gardeners through the first year. Through the garden a sense of community that never existed before is built. “You drop bread on the ground and birds come out of nowhere. Same with that garden. People just appeared, people you didn’t know were there.” Walls come down and people begin to notice each other, they begin to notice themselves and their surroundings and misconceptions are dissolved.

Now that I’ve read Seedfolks, I think it would be a perfect selection for my reluctant reader. It is light but carries a wonderful message about the strength of community, about trying things that you never thought possible.

    Wendell: There’s plenty about my life I can’t change. Can’t bring the dead back to life on this earth. Can’t make the world loving and kind. Can’t change myself into a millionaire. But a patch of ground in a trashy lot-I can change that. Can change it big.
    Nora: Gardening boring? Never! It has suspense, tragedy, startling developments-a soap opera growing out of the grown. I’d forgotten that tremolo of expectation produced by a tiny forest of sprouts.

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