Working Cotton

Working Cotton

5.0 1
by Sherley Anne Williams

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A child's view of a long day's work in the cotton fields, simply expressed in a poet's resonant language, is a fresh and stirring look at migrant family life.


A child's view of a long day's work in the cotton fields, simply expressed in a poet's resonant language, is a fresh and stirring look at migrant family life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A hot, arduous and typical day in the life of a family of migrant cotton pickers is the subject of Williams's striking first picture book. Shelan describes how her parents, brothers and sisters arrive at the cottonfields before dawn and toil till night to fill sacks with the fluffy white harvest. At times both gritty and poetic, Williams's text is written completely in Shelan's dialect. Though the phrasing may require careful reading, it adds a necessary authenticity to the story while presenting a difficult way of life. However, the author does not pass a negative judgment here: her characters play, sing and admire nature--when they have the chance. Bayard's intense acrylic paintings capture the beauty of the California landscape as well as the intensity of human struggle--thoughtfully reflected in her cast's sweaty faces. Vast fields of white cotton tufts against an endless blue sky create an appropriate sense of isolation. Though some may object to the portrayal of African Americans picking cotton, Shelan's family is to be respected for embracing life and doing whatever it takes to make their way in the world. An auspicious debut. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
A Caldecott Award runner-up, Working Cotton by writer Williams, features an African-American child who is a migrant worker. Williams balances the truth of a hopeless, hard life with the beauty of stirring language and powerful images.
Hazel Rochman
. "The rows of cotton stretch as far as I can see." The voice is that of Shelan, a migrant child laborer in the cotton fields of central California, and the words hold both physical reality and bitter metaphor. She tells of a long day of work with her family--from the cold smoky dawn to night. Byard's double-page acrylic paintings set the soft whiteness of the cotton crop against landscapes and portraits of glowing color, and the sense of beauty and space underlines the child's confinement. The text, based on Williams' "Peacock Poems" (a National Book Award nominee), is spare, colloquial, and immediate, a way of life concentrated in a single day. The family is warm, but friendship is fleeting when "you hardly ever see the same kids twice, 'specially after we moves to a new field.'" There's no self-pity or squalor, and no false nobility either, but rather a sense of bone-weariness and lost potential and no end in sight: "It's a long time to night." Williams says in a note that she drew on her childhood experience in the cotton fields of Fresno: her book speaks for children everywhere at work far from home. With its restrained, poetic text and impressionist paintings, this is a picture book for older readers, too.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
10.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
5 - 8 Years

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Working Cotton 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Some books that I read do not catch my eye right away, but this one caught my eye for a couple of reasons. For one, this book reminded me of the stories that my grandmother used to tell me about when she would be in the fields picking cotton. Two, this book does not make picking cotton sound like a bad thing at all. When my grandmother would tell me stories about being in the cotton fields, the stories would never sound bad, or harsh. Her stories made me want to pick up this book and read it. This book is about a little girl named Shelan who goes to the fields every morning to go pick cotton with her family. Her family consists of her father, mother, her two older sisters, and her baby sister Leanne, who her mother has to carry while she picks cotton. The story is told through Shelan's eyes, from the time that they get on the bus at dawn, to the time they leave the fields at sunset. The illustrations were as vivid as the little girl telling the story. The pictures were hazy, just like a very hot day, where there are no trees. I thought that was very symbolic. I liked this book a lot, for different reasons. But I do have one or two concerns about this book. For one, the book may not be suitable to teach to just 'any' child. I think that a children's book is supposed to move at a comfortable pace. Not make the child think too hard, but just enough to spark some creative ideas. Every child is not going to be able to relate to this book, like others would. To make it plain, I do not think that a Black child would have as much trouble understanding this book, as opposed to children of other ethnicities. I (a Black male) understood the dialect in this book very well and I enjoyed reading the 'broken language' because that was what I was used to as a child. I did not think twice about the dialect until I had to analyze it. After I read the whole thing, I wondered if children of other backgrounds would be able to understand this book. The author was not trying to think 'politically correct,' but rather, correct in the eyes of the little girl. Shelan doesn't know any better than to talk the way that she does. Just like any little child does not recognize their 'grammatical speaking errors.' I think that whoever is going to read this book to a class of little children should be conscious of what children they are reading it to. The makeup of the class who receives this book is very important. Just like Nappy Hair, this book is very real as far as language and vivid images are concerned. This book is very good nevertheless, and hearing a great storyteller tell this story would be a treat to the senses.