Monday, February 13, 2012

Seedfolks - by Paul Fleishman

Seedfolks tells the story of the growth of a community garden in Cleveland, Ohio through a series of thirteen vignettes, each from the point of view of a different character. Over the course of a growing season the neighborhood comes together to build the garden, which is started in a vacant lot with a handful of lima bean seeds by a young vietnamese girl. The neighbors overcome language and cultural barriers in order to empty the lot of trash, solve the problem of getting water to the plants, fight crime, and to teach each other how to garden. The final vignette, told by Florence, serves as an epilogue as it is made clear that she is remembering the "seedfolks" who started the garden, "before there were spigots and hoses, and the toolshed, and new soil. And before landlords started charging more for apartments that look on the garden." Florence, as it turns out, is a retired librarian! Library was also used as a metaphor in the story of  Virgil, a pre-teen whose father has a plan to grow baby lettuce and sell it to up-scale restaurants. When the two find their lettuce wilting, the father (a taxi driver) starts asking all of his fares for their advice - "[h]is cab was like a library for him".

While the message of the book is positive overall, the author does not pretend that everything is perfect inside the garden. One gardener, Sam, notices that even while the garden helps to bring people together, the neighborhood has recreated itself inside its walls "the blacks on one side, the whites on the other, the Central Americans and Asians toward the back...Each group kept to itself". A homeless man who used the lot to sleep in is displaced, and as people start to worry about others stealing their crops chicken wire and "Keep Out" signs go up.

This this was a rather short book (69 pages) so I read it in both English and Spanish (Semillas) and I learned some new Spanish vocabulary including "bieldo" (pitchfork). Both library references were retained in the Spanish version as well.

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