HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Author: Paul Fleischman
Illustrator: Judy Pedersen
Publisher: HarperTrophy, republished 2004
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 13 and up
Rating: *** 3 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Fleischman, Paul. Seedfolks (published in 1997 by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, 10 E. 53rd St., New York City, NY 10022; republished in 1999 by Scholastic Inc., 555 Broadway, New York City, NY 10012). Nine year old Kim is a young schoolgirl from Vietnam whose family immigrated to Cleveland, OH, and now lives in an apartment building on Gibb St. overlooking Lake Erie with her mother and sisters. To mark the death anniversary of her late father, who was a farmer in Vietnam, she plants six lima beans in a rat-infested, garbage-filled vacant lot across the street. Ana, a Rumanian immigrant who lives in the same building and likes to look out her window, sees what Kim is doing. Ana calls her neighbor Wendell, a school janitor who grew up on a farm in Kentucky, and asks him to water the beans. Wendell gets Garcia, an eighth grader who came from Guatemala, to help him cultivate the garden and add more plants.
Then other people, a total of thirteen, from the apartment and the neighborhood become involved. Leona plants goldenrod because her grandmother back in Atlanta used it to make tea and also gets the city to clean the garbage off the lot. Sam grows pumpkins. Virgil, who is finishing sixth grade, and his cab-driver father raise baby lettuce to sell to fancy restaurants. Sae Young from Korea has hot peppers. Muscle-bound Curtis brings some tomato plants, trying to win back Lateesha. Nora, a British nurse, puts out all sorts of flowers for her patient Mr. Myles. What happens to the garden? Do the plants survive? Or will someone destroy all that the residents have worked for? Seedfolks is not a novel but a series of short stories, actually vignettes, all with a common, interconnected thread. The book has won numerous awards and is often required reading in public schools for kids as young as nine because it makes so many connections with different elements of society, ethnicities, and multiracial groups, promoting a sense of community with diversity and tolerance instead of racism and stereotyping. It was published by HarperCollins Children’s Books but is listed as “Teen and Young Adult Literature.” So which is it?
Even the top positive reviewer on Amazon, who gave it five stars and bought the book because it had been recommended for her grandchildren in second grade, admitted that while it is very good, it is not a read for youngsters, not even a read to, but will read it with them when they are a bit older. Portions of the book have content of a mature nature that may not be appropriate for preteens. Wendell’s son was shot dead like a dog in the street. Leona’s kids attend a high school with more guns than books. Sam’s Puerto Rican employee wants to plant and sell marijuana. Virgil is approached by a couple of drug dealers. Sae Young was brutally attacked while in her dry cleaning shop. Curtis lost Lateesha because with his body he had other girls hanging on him all the time. The most shocking chapter of all is about Maricela, a sixteen year old pregnant Mexican girl who hates her baby, wishes it were dead, and talks about abortion. One might not mind students reading this book as teenagers when they mature enough to handle the content and be able to process all the issues presented in this story. However, I would not recommend it for a fourth grade class.