3.9 77
by Paul Fleischman

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Common Ground

A vacant lot, rat-infested and filled with garbage, looked like no place for a garden. Especially to a neighborhood of strangers where no one seems to care. Until one day, a young girl clears a small space and digs into the hard-packed soil to plant her precious bean seeds. Suddenly, the soil holds promise: To Curtis, who believes he can win

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Common Ground

A vacant lot, rat-infested and filled with garbage, looked like no place for a garden. Especially to a neighborhood of strangers where no one seems to care. Until one day, a young girl clears a small space and digs into the hard-packed soil to plant her precious bean seeds. Suddenly, the soil holds promise: To Curtis, who believes he can win back Lateesha's heart with a harvest of tomatoes; to Virgil's dad, who seems a fortune to be made from growing lettuce; and even to Mariclea, sixteen and pregnant, wishing she were dead.

Thirteen very different voices—old, young, Haitian, Hispanic, tough, haunted, and hopeful tell one amazing story about a garden that transforms a neighborhood.An old man seeking renewal, a young girl connecting to a father she never knew, a pregnant teenager dreading motherhood. Thirteen voices tell one story of the flowering of a vacant city lot into a neighborhood garden. Old, young, Jamaican, Korean, Hispanic, tough, haunted, hopeful'Newbery Medal winner Paul Fleischman weaves characters as diverse as the plants they grow into a rich, multi-layered exploration of how a community is born and nurtured in an urban environment.

00-01 Utah Book Award (Gr. 7-12)

Author Biography: Paul Fleischman was born in Monterey, California, and grew up in Santa Monica. He attended the University of California at Berkeley and the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, and now lives in Pacific Grove, California. He is the author of many books for young readers, includingSeedfolks, The Borning Room, Bull Run, and Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, and winner of the 1989 Newbery Medal.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Fleischman's talent for writing stories from various points of view makes his works particularly appealing in audiobook form. Here, 13 different characters come alive via the distinct performances of a widely varied cast. When Kim, a young Vietnamese girl, plants some lima beans in a run-down vacant lot near her Cleveland, Ohio, apartment building, she has no idea that her actions will be a catalyst for reinvigorating the community. An elderly Romanian woman, a widower from Kentucky, an African-American boy and a Hispanic man are just a sampling of the other nearby residents who gradually emerge to follow Kim's unintentional lead and begin to help grow a new garden-and newly fulfilled lives-in the lot. Though not all the readings are of equal caliber (the portrayals of Ana and Wendell are particularly strong; a couple of the child performers lack polish), the range of voices and styles suggests a true community-certainly the author's intention. Ages 10-up. (Jan.)
The ALAN Review - Teri S. Lesesne
A vacant lot in an inner city neighborhood is transformed into a garden which grows a sense of community among the thirteen residents who labor there to create a place of beauty and renewal. Kim makes the first move as she plants beans in honor of her late father, a Vietnamese farmer. A neighbor, suspicious at first, watches Kim doggedly tend the withering crop. Other neighbors soon join in, each cultivating a section of the lot. Suddenly, a place of beauty stands amidst the grime of the city, a beacon of hope for residents who believed hope to be vanished from their lives. As he proved so ably in Bull Run, winner of the Scott O'Dell award for historical fiction, Fleischman is adept at writing from many perspectives. The book's format lends itself perfectly to reader's theater and is also a good choice for reading aloud traditionally.
Children's Literature - Margaret Jackson
With Seedfolks, Newbery Medal winner Paul Fleischman has written a kind of modern-day folk tale about disconnected urban dwellers coming together one-by-one to join in a rather accidental community garden. It all starts with the simple act of a young immigrant girl honoring her dead father by planting a few lima beans in vacant lot in her downtrodden Cleveland neighborhood. She tells her story in chapter one and the chapters that follow are the voices of the other gardeners-spanning all ages and many nationalities-and how they came to be a part of the garden and the new community spirit that blossomed there. Seedfolks is just a slip of a book but a very interesting story well told.
School Library Journal
Gr 4 UpA vacant lot in Cleveland, OH, is transformed into a garden when residents of the community plant seeds to fulfill personal needs. From the Korean girl who plants lima beans in memory of the father she never knew, to the elderly Guatemalan uncle who can't speak English, to the Haitian cab driver who plants baby lettuce to sell to fancy restaurants, the 13 voices telling their stories are like a packet of variegated seeds that when sown produce a beautiful, multicolored harvest. The device is similar to that of Fleischman's Bull Run (HarperCollins, 1993); one character's words sum up the cumulative effect: "Gardening...has suspense, tragedy, startling developmentsa soap opera growing out of the ground." Indeed it does. The vacant lot could be in any city as the message of diversity, people, and sensibility is universal, and beautifully cultivated by an author who has a green thumb with words.Julie Cummins, New York Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
Using the multiple voices that made Bull Run (1995) so absorbing, Fleischman takes readers to a modern inner-city neighborhood and a different sort of battle, as bit by bit the handful of lima beans an immigrant child plants in an empty lot blossoms into a community garden, tended by a notably diverse group of local residents.

It's not an easy victory: Toughened by the experience of putting her children through public school, Leona spends several days relentlessly bulling her way into government offices to get the lot's trash hauled away; others address the lack of readily available water, as well as problems with vandals and midnight dumpers; and though decades of waging peace on a small scale have made Sam an expert diplomat, he's unable to prevent racial and ethnic borders from forming. Still, the garden becomes a place where wounds heal, friendships form, and seeds of change are sown. Readers won't gain any great appreciation for the art and science of gardening from this, but they may come away understanding that people can work side by side despite vastly different motives, attitudes, skills, and cultural backgrounds. It's a worthy idea, accompanied by Pedersen's chapter-heading black-and-white portraits, providing advance information about the participants' races and, here and there, ages.

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Product Details

Demco Media
Publication date:
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


I stood before our family altar. It was dawn. No one else in the apartment was awake. I stared at my father's photographhis thin face stem, lips latched tight. his eyes peering permanently to the right. I was nine years old and still hoped that perhaps his eyes might move. Might notice me.

The candies and the incense sticks, lit the day before to mark his death anniversary, had burned out. The rice and meat offered him were gone. After the evening feast, past midnight, I'd been wakened by my mother's crying. My oldestsister had joined in. My own tears had then come as well, but for a different reason.

I turned from the altar, tiptoed to the kitchen, and quietly drew a spoon from a drawer. I filled my lunch thermos with water and reached into our jar of dried lima beans. Then I walked outside to the street.

The sidewalk was completely empty. It was Sunday, early in April . An icy wind teetered trash cans and turned my cheeks to marble. In Vietnam we had no weather like that. Here in Cleveland people call it spring. I walked half a block, then crossed the street and reached the vacant lot.

I stood tall and scouted. No one was sleeping on the old couch in the middle. I'd never entered the lot before, or wanted to. I did so now, picking my way between tires and trash bags. I nearly stepped on two rats gnawing and froze. Then I told myself that I must show my bravery. I continued farther and chose a spot far from the sidewalk and hidden from view by a rusty refrigerator. I had to keep my project safe.

I took out my spoon and began to dig. The snow had melted, but the ground was hard. After much work, I finished one hole, thena second, then a third. I thought about how my mother and sisters remembered my father, how they knew his face from every angle and held in their fingers the feel of his hands. I had no such memories to cry over.I'd been born eight months after he'd died. Worse, he had no memories of me. When his spirit hovered over our altar, did it even know who I was?

I dug six holes. All his life in Vietnam my father had been a farmer. Here our apartment house had no yard. But in that vacant lot he would see me. He would watch my beans break ground and spread, and would notice with pleasure their pods growing plump. He would see my patience and my hard work. I would show him that I could raise plants, as he had. I would show him that I was his daughter.

My class had sprouted lima beans in paper cups the year before. I now placed a bean in each of the holes. I covered them up, pressing the soil down firmly with my fingertips. I opened my thermos and watered them all. And I vowed to myself that those beans would thrive.

Seedfolks. Copyright © by Paul Fleischman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Meet the Author

Paul Fleischman grew up in Santa Monica, California in a house with a printing press, a grand piano, a shortwave radio, and his father—children’s author Sid Fleischman. Playing recorder in early music consorts led to his books of verbal duets—I Am Phoenix, Joyful Noise (winner of the 1989 Newbery Medal), and Big Talk. His novels built from monologues include Bull Run, a 16-character account of the Civil War's first battle, and Seedfolks—the chronicle of the first year of a Cleveland community garden. His interest in theater inspired his young adult novels Mind's Eye, Seek, and Breakout, all of which revolve around the spoken word. His historical fiction includes Saturnalia and The Borning Room. He's written nonfiction and picture books as well, including Time Train, Weslandia, and Sidewalk Circus.

Alongside the Newbery Medal, he's won a Newbery Honor Book, the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, the PEN West Literary Award, the California Young Reader Medal, and most recently was a finalist for the 2003 National Book Award. He makes his home in the village of Aromas, California.

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