Paul Fleischman

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Seedfolks Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Paul Fleischman's Seedfolks. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Paul Fleischman

Fleischman was born in Monterey, California. He’s the son of Sid Fleischman, who is also a renowned children’s author. Both of Paul’s parents inspired Seedfolks: his father because he kept a hobby garden to take breaks from writing, and his mother because she volunteered in immigrant communities as well as community and therapeutic gardens. When Fleischman was 19, he bicycled cross-country and spent several years living in an 18th-century house in New Hampshire, an experience that influenced many of his historical fiction novels. He then went on to attend the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of New Mexico. Fleischman wrote his first novels while he was still in college, though it was the books he wrote in the 1980s that earned him major accolades. He won the 1989 Newbery Medal for Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. This is one of several of Fleischman’s novels that reflects his love of music; he’s said that as a child, he wanted to write music for orchestras rather than write books. Like Joyful Noise, booth I Am Phoenix: Poems for Two Voices and Big Talk: Poems for Four Voices are intended to be read out loud by multiple readers. Several of his other novels, including Seedfolks, have been adapted into plays. Fleischman has two sons and a stepdaughter, and he lives in his hometown of Monterey, California, with his wife.
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Historical Context of Seedfolks

Seedfolks draws on the American history of community gardens, but it also touches on Cleveland’s status as an immigrant destination and on the history of gardening more generally. Cleveland, Ohio, made the leap from minor city to a major manufacturing hub during the American Civil War. It then became a destination for immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as Ireland. Because of the influx of immigrants, Cleveland’s population more than doubled between 1860 and 1870. In the decades to follow and into the 20th century, many Black Southerners moving North in the Great Migration settled in Cleveland as well. In the late 19th century and the first few years of the 20th century, Cleveland was associated strongly with the City Beautiful movement. Proponents believed that making cities beautiful through parks and grand architecture would improve life for poor and working-class residents, as well as create moral and civil virtue. The Cleveland Mall, an expansive public park in Cleveland, is one of the best examples of the City Beautiful ideals. The history of community gardens, however, is much older and stretches back thousands of years. The idea is simple, as a community garden simply refers to a communal area where people can have a plot to grow produce or flowers. Studies have found that community gardens have numerous positive effects including helping people exercise, decreasing food insecurity, and decreasing instances of crime. Turning vacant lots into community gardens, as in the novel, has become especially common in Detroit, Michigan. This can sometimes cause issues because of zoning laws that designate those lots as commercial or residential rather than agricultural, meaning that they could eventually be developed at the expense of the garden. However, since support for community gardens tends to be strong, several cities have retroactively rezoned vacant lots to protect the gardens from development.

Other Books Related to Seedfolks

The idea that a garden can be a healing force that brings people together isn’t unique to Seedfolks. Indeed, the children’s classic, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, portrays its titular garden as capable of healing illness and curing children of bad attitudes and loneliness. Other children’s novels that portray the natural world as a place where kids can learn about the world around them include L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. Nature’s healing power is an especially common theme in dystopian novels that take place in the future, like Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games series, In books like these, characters must find relief from a dangerous and lacking manmade world—and figure out how to fix it—in nature. Given that it tackles building community and the immigrant experience, Seedfolks fits in with novels as varied as American Street by Ibi Zoboi, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez, and the short story collection Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.
Key Facts about Seedfolks
  • Full Title: Seedfolks
  • When Written: 1996–1997
  • Where Written: California
  • When Published: 1997
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Young Adult Novel
  • Setting: Cleveland, Ohio
  • Climax: The neighborhood gathers together for the harvest feast, celebrating their community garden and all they’ve grown there.
  • Antagonist: Racism, hopelessness, and language barriers
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for Seedfolks

Beans and Death. Though Kim’s lima beans are symbols of life and hope in Seedfolks, beans—fava beans in particular—have historically been associated with death and the underworld. Various accounts state that the Greek philosopher Pythagoras and other members of his cult refused to eat these beans, as they believed the beans contained the souls of the dead. It’s also possible that Pythagoras died due to a dangerous and relatively common allergy to fava beans.

Citizenship in Cleveland. In 2019, a study by a group that assists immigrants with the naturalization process found that Cleveland, Ohio, the setting of Seedfolks, is the best city in which to become an American citizen. The study ranked things like processing times and the efficiency of the local U.S. Customs and Immigration Services offices. It found that in Cleveland, it takes an average of four months to become a citizen—compared to an average of 10 months nationwide and just over 17 months in Houston, Texas, the city the study found to be the worst.