by Paul Fleischman
The Ensemble Cast (The Gardeners)
You probably noticed that this book doesn't have just one main character. It doesn't even limit the main folks to two. Or three. Or four. Or twelve. Nope. There are thirteen—count 'em up, thirteen—main guys and gals in Seedfolks. We've got ourselves a baker's dozen here… or a gardener's dozen? Well, you catch our drift.
Talk about an ensemble cast. And our thirteen main characters are diverse as all get-out. So we've got one question for you: why are there so many head honchos in this book?
Three Cheers for Diversity: Thirteen Is Better Than One
You know, the number thirteen often gets a bad rap. Ever heard of triskaidekaphobia? Well it's a fear of the number thirteen. Some say the number is super unlucky. Others are just a wee bit superstitious of ten plus three. But in Seedfolks, thirteen is lucky as can be. In fact, when it comes to main characters, it's the more the merrier for this community garden.
For starters, this book doesn't just give us oodles of main dudes and dudettes to follow around as they work on the community garden. Seedfolks also makes each of the protagonists unique. So with thirteen main characters in this book, we get oodles of different experiences. We've got ladies and gents, kids and adults, busybodies and relaxers, green thumbs and not-so-green thumbs. Plus, our main characters are all different races, so they've got unique cultural backgrounds, too.
That means that instead of just hearing about one main character's experience, we get a huge variety. We get to hear about Virgil's experiences as a kid from Haiti who helps his dad grow lettuce in the garden. And we get to hear about Sam's experiences as a seventy-eight year old Jewish man who just wants world peace. And then there's Sae Young, who's had a rough time since she left Korea. The list goes on. You see, with thirteen head honchos, we aren't limited to only one set of experiences.
The Narrator Effect
Plus, there's an extra cherry on top of this diverse character cake because the main folks in this book are also our narrators. We get one story from each of them, so we get to see thirteen different experiences and thirteen different points of view. Sure, there are times when the main characters disagree with one another. There are even times when their stories look pretty different. (Check out "Narrator Point of View" to get a glimpse at how Ana's story conflicts with Kim's, for example.) But don't worry, they work it out in the end.
Since they all get the main stage for a chapter, each of our characters also get about the same amount of airtime. The VIPs in this book may be different ages or races, but they're all equal in the context Seedfolks. In fact, maybe there are more similarities among these thirteen folks than initially meets the eye. Shmoop's take? Definitely.
So what do you think? How does having thirteen main characters highlight their differences? Or does it bring out their similarities?
The Domino Effect: How One Good Seed Leads to Another
With all these main characters, we've got a definite chain reaction happening in Seedfolks. Just imagine a set of dominoes. What happens when that first tile goes down? Yep, the rest of them start to go down, too. One by one, each domino falls flat. So thanks to one tiny action by Kim—let's call her Domino #1—this whole community garden gets started.
You see, if Kim had never planted lima beans by the old refrigerator, then Ana wouldn't have gotten all nosy about what she was doing. And if Ana hadn't dug up the beans, then she never would have asked Wendell to help her save them. And if Wendell hadn't saved Kim's plants, then he never would have been inspired to start a garden patch of his own. And if Wendell hadn't started gardening, then Gonzalo and Tío Juan never would have seen him in the vacant lot. Phew! And that's just four of our dominoes, folks.
We could go on and on, but we'll let Wendell's reaction sum up the effects of the garden:
There's plenty about my life I can't change. Can't bring the dead back to life on this earth. Can't make the world loving and kind. Can't change myself into a millionaire. But a patch of ground in this trashy lot—I can change that. Can change it big. Better to put my time into that than moaning about the other all day. That little grammar-school girl showed me that. (3.13)
Can you tell how inspired Wendell is here? It just took one little action from Kim to get him excited about starting up his own patch in the garden. He may be much older than Kim, but he can still learn a lesson from a young gal. And for Wendell, once those dominoes start falling, well there's only one thing to do: go buy a shovel and get digging.
Community Party Time: Let's Get Together, Yeah Yeah Yeah
Even though each of our main characters has his or her own chapter, they interact with each other a ton. In fact, they work together so much that they become regular chums. And we're thinking that when the characters work together as a whole, they're definitely greater than the sum of their parts. (We've got oodles to say about this topic, so take a look at the "Community" theme and then join us back here.)
Sometimes, the characters know that they're working together. Just think of that big harvest party that the gardeners have at the end of the summer. Or check out Sam's water contest. This friendly competition has inventive kiddos, trash-can-buying adults, and funnel-purchasing Sae Young all working together to get the water-collecting under way. (Plus, go scope out "Writing Style" where we've got more to say about how Sae Young's and Sam's stories work together like two peas in a pod.)
Yep, these main characters don't exist in isolation anymore. Instead, the garden gets them to work together. Just take a look at what Amir has to say about this newfound camaraderie:
Those conversations tied us together. In the middle of summer someone dumped a load of tires on the garden at night, as if it were still filled with trash. A man's four rows of young corn were crushed. In an hour, we had all the tires by the curb. We were used to helping each other by then. A few weeks later, early in the evening, a woman screamed, down the block from the garden. A man with a knife had taken her purse. Three men from the garden ran after him. I was surprised that I was one of them. Even more surprising, we caught him. Royce held the man to a wall with his pitchfork until the police arrived. I asked the others. Not one of us had ever chased a criminal before. And most likely we wouldn't have except near the garden. There, you felt part of a community. (11.4)
These characters aren't just gardening together, either. And they're not just cleaning up the lot together. These folks are actually protecting one another. Royce and Amir feel like they're "part of a community," so they're willing to pick up tires or chase after criminals to help out their new buds. Yep, when these individual characters come together, they form quite the team.