Written By Paul Fleischman
Young children have the ability to see the world from a perspective that many grow to ignore. Children hope, dream, and see beauty when adults have forgotten how to recognize it. Kim hoped that the father she never had the chance to meet would see her from heaven and recognize her as his daughter. She did not realize that the six lima beans she planted for her father would have such a significant impact on those around her. Cleveland Heights was a place made up of people of many different origins. It was a place where people avoided eye contact and did not bother to get to know each other on a personal level. It was a place where hope seemed to be lost. It was a place that has been transformed by the power of six little seeds—transformed into a community full of hope.
In Fleischman’s Seedfolks, I am left wondering and wanting to know more. Fleischman opens the window a crack and allows us to hear the voices of thirteen individuals—representing a diverse and ethnic viewpoint of the world. As I finish the book, I realize I would like to open the window all of the way and learn about the complete lives of these very interesting and very real people.
Ana is the first to notice Kim’s presence in an old lot filled with garbage and rats. She no longer sees the innocence in children and immediately assumes the worst. “I’ve never had children of my own, but I’ve seen enough in that lot to know she was mixed up in something she shouldn’t be…I just about knew what she’d buried. Drugs most likely, or money, or a gun.” Through Ana, we see how people can be hardened after many years of being witness to violence, crime, and despair.
Fleischman continues to use powerful language throughout the text, awakening the reader to the realities of many different life-styles that people live. For example, Gonzalo believes, “The older you are, the younger you get when you move to the United States.” This opens the eyes to the challenges many immigrants face when moving to a new country. Adults can no longer speak for themselves because people do not understand their language and sometimes do not bother to try to understand the broken English. My grandmother emigrated from Italy when she was eighteen years old. When I was younger, I went with my grandmother to the supermarket where she went to the meat counter and ordered chicken cutlets. In broken English, she gave specific instructions regarding the chicken to the man behind the counter. At the age of thirteen, I could sense the man’s impatience and frustrations with my grandmother. I spoke up to clarify for her—just as Gonzalo clarifies for his father when he tries to speak. Fleischman writes, “He didn’t want strangers to hear his mistakes.” This phrase speaks to how people often do not accept the differences of each other and cause people to be uncomfortable in a place they are supposed to be able to call home.
When we are introduced to Sam, we wonder how this garden will bring people together. In describing the garden, Sam notices, “…With a few exceptions, the blacks on one side, the whites on another, the Central Americans and Asians towards the back. The garden was a copy of the neighborhood. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. A duck gives birth to a duckling, not a moose. Each group kept to itself, spoke its own language, and grew its own special crops.” After some disturbances in the garden, people started to worry. Sam explains the precautions taken, “That week, a man put chicken wire around the garden, five feet high, complete with a little gate and padlock…Then came the first KEEP OUT sign. Then, the crowning achievement—barbed wire.” It is at this point that Fleischman makes us feel that there is no chance for a community. These people are working side by side, but remaining just as far apart as ever.
Just when you think all hope is lost, Fleischman interjects signs that the community is beginning to come together. It began when Tio Juan attempted to give Virgil advice on his lettuce crop. Next, Sae Young stands and admires the conversation between man and woman over corn. Later, Sam helps the community by having a contest for the children—awarding twenty dollars to the best solution for water transport to the garden. Sae Young feels like a part of the garden and member of a family when she notices many people using the funnels she purchased to help with filling narrow bottles with water. Leona, the strong-willed woman who convinced the city to clear the trash out of the garden, helps Maricela, a pregnant teen, regain hope and love for the life growing inside of her.
Fleischman is successful in intertwining the lives of the characters together as he shows the community forming. Even though Royce does not have his own chapter, we hear his voice and learn who he is through other gardeners. He starts off trying to go unnoticed, a young boy of fifteen who was kicked out of his home. Curtis first notices him and has him help guard his tomatoes. By the end, Amir says, “How strange it was to watch people who would have crossed the street if they’d seen him a few weeks before, now giving him vegetables, more than he could eat…He was trusted and liked—and famous, after his exploit with the pitchfork…He was not a teenage black boy. He was Royce.”
By the end of the story, we can sense the togetherness of the community as the people celebrate their fall harvest with a Harvest Festival. They shared food, conversation, knowledge, and wisdom. Perhaps in the coming years, they will stop referring to each other by their race and will begin to refer to each other as friends.
Fleischman ends the story just as it began—with Kim being the first to plant lima beans in the garden at the first signs of spring. The garden will begin a new cycle of life. I’m wondering what happened to the community during the winter. Did the new atmosphere of the community die just as the plants did? Or, did it remain strong and continue to develop—fighting through the winter and anxiously waiting together for new sprouts to grow.