Study Guide

Seedfolks Man and the Natural World

By Paul Fleischman

Man and the Natural World

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. (1.8)

Kim is the first character to take a stab at planting her own little garden. And thank goodness she decides to go interacting with nature, because otherwise this garden may never have gotten started. Kim may be young, but she's learned all the ingredients for planting her beans. Just give the girl some soil, some water, and some beans, and she'll get that garden going.

I stooped down. It was wet there and easy digging. I hacked and dug, but didn't find anything, except for a large white bean. I tried a new spot and found another, then a third. Then the truth of it slapped me full in the face. I said to myself, "What have you done?" Two beans had roots. I knew I'd done them harm. (2.5)

When Ana starts digging up Kim's lima beans, she realizes she's done something really bad. In fact, her one little action could totally mess up Kim's budding beans. Remember how Kim shows us back in chapter 1 that she has the ability to get plants started? Well, Ana has just reminded us that humans can destroy nature, too.

It was a weekend in May and hot. You'd have thought that those beans were hers. They needed water, especially in that heat. She said the girl hadn't come in four days—sick, probably, or gone out of town. (3.9)

Ana is super worried about Kim's plants, and she wants Wendell to help save them. Without water, those poor little beans are going to die. This reminds us that the plants can't necessarily survive on their own. These little lima beans need time and effort from Ana and Wendell if they're going to grow.

I walked down the stairs and into the lot and found the girl's plants. You don't plant beans till the weather's hot. Then I saw what had kept her seeds from freezing. The refrigerator in front of them had bounced the sunlight back on the soil, heating it up like an oven. I bent down and gave the dirt a feel. It was hard packed and light colored. I studied the plants. Leaves shaped like spades in a deck of cards. Definitely beans. I scraped up a ring of dirt around the first plant, to hold the water and any rain that fell. I picked up the pitcher and poured the water slowly. (3.11)

Wendell sure is a sweet guy to be taking care of Kim's beans. And he seems to know just what to do to make sure they grow big and strong (got water?). Plus, did you notice how Wendell is like a plant detective? He searches the plant for clues like the shape of the leaves and the feel of the dirt. Nicely done, Mr. Plant Detective, nicely done.

He studied the sun. Then the soil. He felt it, then smelled it, then actually tasted it. He chose a spot not too far from the sidewalk. Where my mother changed busses she'd gone into a store and bought him a trowel and four packets of seeds. I cleared the trash, he turned the soil. (4.8)

Tío Juan knows exactly what he's doing in the garden. He looks at every bit of the lot and doesn't miss a thing. If Wendell from chapter 3 is Mr. Plant Detective, then we're dubbing Tío Juan Mr. Soil Detective. In fact, Tío Juan doesn't just look at the soil, he even tastes it. Now that's some thorough detective work. What do you think of Tío Juan's relationship with the soil? How do you think smelling and tasting the soil will help Tío Juan to plant his seeds better?

Squatting there in the cool of the evening, planting our seeds, a few other people working, a robin singing out strong all the while, it seemed to me that we were in truth in Paradise, a small Garden of Eden. (6.3)

Sam seriously loves this community garden. In fact, he doesn't just love the garden, he thinks it may just be the greatest place ever. Check out how Sam compares it to the Garden of Eden. What do you think makes this garden a paradise for Sam? Is it the nice weather? Or the industrious folks? Or something totally different?

I'd never grown anything before. I got into it. Every day something new. The first flower bud. Then those first yellow flowers. Then the tomatoes growing right behind 'em. (9.5)

Curtis sure is getting into his tomato plants. Take a look at how he thinks each step in the growing process is totally fascinating. He's not bored waiting around for those tomatoes to grow. Nope, instead he's psyched about each little step from seed to bud to tomato.

He twisted and pointed toward the garden. I turned the wheelchair and headed back. I could see his nostrils taking in the smell of the soil. We reached the lot. His arm commanded me to enter. Over the narrow, bumpy path we went, his nose and eyes working. Some remembered scent was pulling him. He was a salmon traveling upstream through his past. (10.3)

Nora knows just how much Mr. Myles likes being in the community garden. Actually, Mr. M doesn't just like being in the garden—he loves it. Just check out how sensory his experience is. Does this remind you of anyone else? If you're thinking of Tío Juan, then we're with you. Both these gents know that smelling the garden is one way to get to know nature.

We might have been strolling through a miniature city. Some plots sported brick pathways and flower borders, while others looked haphazard. One had a gate that was in fact a car door. Within, beans climbed a propped-up set of bedsprings. (10.4)

Nora is pretty fascinated by the layout of the community garden. Did you notice how it's not just plants that fill the garden? Nope, instead we've got quite the jumble of things. On the one hand, there are natural elements like "flower borders" and "beans." But then there are also bricks, a "car door," and even "bedsprings." This might seem like a crazy mishmash. But those beans are actually growing on the bedsprings. Looks like nature might need a bit of help—even from some old furniture.

"Whole city shuts down, but the garden just keeps going," Leona said. She talked on, how plants don't run on electricity or clock time, how none of nature did. How nature ran on sunlight and rain and the seasons, and how I was part of that system. The words sort of put me into a daze. My body was part of nature. I was related to bears, to dinosaurs, to plants, to things that were a million years old. It hit me that this system was much older and stronger than the other. She said how it wasn't some disgrace to be part of it. She said it was an honor. I stared at the squash plants. It was a world in there. It seemed like I could actually see the leaves and flowers growing and changing. (11.8)

Wow, Leona has a super beautiful way of saying that the whole world is connected. And Maricela is pretty entranced by this idea. For most of her story, Maricela feels really disconnected from nature. But Leona's descriptions start to change all that. Plus, Leona has us remembering that nature is always developing, just like how Maricela thinks she sees the squash plant "growing and changing."