Working Cotton

ISBN: 0152014829
ISBN 13: 9780152014827
By: Sherley Anne Williams Carole Byard

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311 Caldecott Caldecott Honor Children's Books Childrens Historical Fiction Picture Book Picture Books Realistic Fiction To Read

About this book

This child’s view of the 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. “With its restrained poetic text and impressionist paintings, this is a picture book for older readers, too.”--Booklist

Reader's Thoughts

Lamar Sanders

Main Characters: Shelan and her familyPoint of View: 1st personSetting:Cotton fieldPlot: The story follows a day in the life a young girl named Shelan whose family picks cotton for a living. Their day is covered from their arrival at the cold of dusk, through the sweltering day, till dusk. The families hardships are tempered through the innocent eyes of young Shelan.Main Ideas:Sharecropping/Migrant Workers, Labor, Class, FamilyI would cedrtainly recommend this book as it allows for the discussion of a myriad of topics, including the state of African-American after slavery, family values, class, and labor laws. I like how the book captured this difficult way of through the innocence of a child. The ideas are heavy, but not so "in your face" which may make it a bit more approachable for all races. The book is also written in a form of southern Black dialect which adds to the feel of the story.

Debbie Tanner

I liked this story about a girl who is growing up as the child of sharecroppers or migrant farmers. It gives a very vivid picture of what it must be like to work out in the fields as a young child. The pictures are really soft which gives the book a dreamy quality, almost like a memory.


Demonstrates the perspective of a family who works together picking cotton. Demonstrates the role family members play from the youngest to the mother and father. Students can relate because of the perspective of the young girl and the familiar family structure.


Shelan and her family are migrant workers who pick cotton. It's hard work and Shelan's review of the day reveals the difficulties of picking in a field all day. Like many readers, I initially thought that this was a story about slavery. Buses at the beginning of the story reveal that this is a modern story, though it could take place anytime from the 1940s to today. (I really, really hope not today.) The story is also written in dialect, and students will need support to understand some of the writing as well as its meaning in the story. A great text for students learning about migrant labor or share cropping. Recommended for middle/high school collections to support any number of texts as well as elementary school collections.


There's no question as to why this won a Caldecott Honor. The illustrations pull you right into the world of a migrant worker picking cotton. Not only do you feel like you could reach into the book and touch the cotton, you get a sense of the weariness of the workers as you watch sweat rolling down their faces. Told in first-person narrative from the point of view of a young girl who helps her family in the fields, the dialect might be a stumbling block for beginning readers.

Jessica Vanhemel

This is a Caldecott honor book, it was published in 1992. The first thing that I noticed about the book was the cover art, the expression on the little girls face really made me want to read this book. The illustrations really lend themselves to the story of this migrant working family and their average day. The illustrations are very impressionist, you get a hint of the picture, its not crystal clear but you can follow along. The illustrations really help tell the story, they sweep across the pages, covering both pages. This is the story of Shelan, and her family as they work in a cotton field. This story takes place during one day in the field. Shelan is a young girl who works in the field along side her mother, father, and siblings. The day starts with a bus trip to the field, before the sun comes up and then they leave the field long after the sun has gone down. The story is told from the perspective of Shelan as she goes through the motions of the day. One thing that I didn't really like about the story was some of the language and dialect that was used. Some of the word choice was a little odd, it was like trying to read with an accent. It made some of the pages difficult to read, and you had to really think about what was being said. This might be confusing for some children. I would probably read this book with a third or fourth grade classroom, I would read it aloud probably due to some of the word choices, just so that I would be able to explain to the students if there was confusion about what was really being said. This book could be a gateway for lesson on agriculture and such.


I liked the illustrations for this book, they complimented the story. The only thing that I found slightly annoying was the jargon of the story. I kind of wished that it had been written in proper english, so that it would have been easier to understand. But at the same time, the story would have lost a little bit of its feel. I can't say that I would recommend this book, it really just didn't do much for me.*Taken from my book reviews blog:

Araceli Aispuro

Working cotton is about a young girl and her sisters, Ruise, Jesmarie, and Leanne. They go out into the cotton fields to help their mother an father pick the cotton. Their work day starts early in the morning and ends at dark. The younger kids do not get their own sacks but instead pile the cotton for the adults to pick up. The cotton is weighed when the sack is full, the workers eat their lunch and continue working. The workers all get picked up once it gets too dark to work. Working cotton is a great book that depicts the time of slavery. The protagonist of the story is a young black girl working in the fields with her parents and three sisters. The book is powerful as it represents the African Americans in time of slavery. I feel that this book is appropriate for any grade level. In class, I would use this book to celebrate the Martin Luther Kind Jr. holiday. I would introduce the topic of slavery and how slavery started. From there I would read this story to the classroom. This book would also be made available for the students to read as the please.


Working Cotton is a story about a child's view on a hard days work in the cotton fields. The author uses language that is fitting to the story. The illustrations are eye catching and help tell the story. Shelan is the child telling the story. She is not old enough to carry her own sack, but she helps her mamma fill up hers. She says her daddy can pick cotton so fasty that you don't even see him put it in his sack. Shelan wants to be able to carry and fill up her own sack but she is too young for that. I loved the book and the illustrations. I'm not so sure it would be a good read aloud because of how she uses the language, but it is a great read. If i had to recommended this book i would say that a child from second grade to sixth grade would enjoy this book.


Having seen the vast vast cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta, the illustrations and text of this title were very real as to what it was like to work the cotton fields either as a slave or as in this title migrant workers. Incredible is the strength and endurance of those who lived this experience of migrant labors or previously those of slaves.


This was a good read. Really enjoyed the story and the pictures. This story is good history about how it was to be a slave and work on a farm to earn money by picking cotton. This book would introduce history about slaves for the younger elementary students. I liked how the girl narrating the story is very prideful and hopeful.

Christine Medunycia

This story shows a family working hard together and still being a family while at it which I admire. The illustrations are beautiful, they show the hard work and the heat along with what a toll the hard work takes on their bodies. The young girl telling the story says it in a matter-of-fact manner and in slang. It makes the story real.

Whitney White

This would be a wonderful illustration for children to learn about plantation, slave, or sharecropping live styles. Student could learn a great deal about the history of the south upon completion of Working Cotton. I would use this in an upper elementary social studies lesson.


I used this book for my PTLS to help my students understand the life of a sharecropper. Shelan , narrator of the story, tells readers of her daily rountine of getting up when its dark out, working the day away harvesting cotton with her family, and leaving when its dark out.


The illustrations in this book are exquisite. The color palette compliments the time of day from the dark vivid colors of morning to the intense shades of the afternoon and into the muted tones of evening. The soft, loose brush strokes soften the images of slaves working in the cotton fields.

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