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

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.


A great read written in Black English about a young girl working in the cotton fields with her family. While a great picture book with rich illustrations, it is also gives an interesting perspective on migrant workers, minimum wages, shelter, education, and food.


This is a Caldecott Honor book and the illustrations clearly identify with that. I enjoyed this book being from a child's point of view about their work in the cotton fields because students would be able to relate to the child while reading. You could read this book when talking about the South and slavery.


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.


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.


My mother picked cotton as a child and recounted the difficulties to me. The wonderful illustrations and simple text express the dignity of all work as well as the hard life of picking cotton. This book would be very useful in teaching Georgia history, sharecropping and cotton culture. It would also be useful in a civil rights lesson.

Ashlee Gibson

This book is from a little girl's point of view. She talks about how hard a day of work is for her and her family. She also shows how close her family is and how they work together to get the job done. This book could be a great way to integrate Social Studies and Language Arts.


I lived in an area that had a largely agricultural economy for a couple of years, so I've known a number of migrant working children and I completely understand the point this book tries to make. It is fascinating how the migrant farm workers in our country are so often neglected as a source for major concern. I remember riding to school and passing school buses with people sitting and two and three people deep on the seats. At my school, the children of these families would be temporarily enrolled while their family was in the area only to disappear a few months later bound for somewhere to the north or south depending on the season. Even while they were enrolled, they would only come to school sporadically when they weren't needed to pick whatever was ripe. The migrant workers that I met were most often Hispanic rather than black as this book depicts and I lived on the east coast rather than the west, but the experience was otherwise a perfect echo of the observations I made during my middle school years. It's about time there was some literature that brought awareness to this unjust lifestyle. It is a unending cycle that will continue as long as no outside intervention brings it to light.


Summary (CIP): A young black girl relates the daily events of her family's migrant life in the fields of central California. Review: This book transports the reader to the unfamiliar world of a migrant working family. At first reading the time period and setting are hard to determine. The text is poetically written in a voice that sounds and feels authentic for this little girl in this time and place. The illustrations are beautiful, bright, and sensitive. Horn Book liked it, "Byard's mural-like illustrations contribute weight and emotion to Williams's spare, lyrical text."Publishers Weekly sums up their positive review with the statement, "An auspicious debut."


Summary: 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.”—BooklistWritten by : Sherley Anne WilliamsIllustrated by: Carole ByardAudience: k-2ndGenre: general fictionTopics: African Americans, Family, FriendshipLiterary Elements: First Person Point of View, Similes, and metaphorsIllustrations: Carole Byard’s acrylic paintings bring the text to life. They nicely represent human struggle and the landscape of California. Usage: This particular book can be used in a variety of setting in the classroom including independent reading, guided reading, and reading out loud. A teacher could easily introduce this book to children while learning about figurative language and adding descriptive language to writing.Awards: Caldecott Honor (1993)Thanks GoodReads!

Alexandra "Alec"

When I first saw this book, I thought it was going to be about slavery. The first pages include pictures of school buses which really threw me off. This is a great way to show this kind of culture to students who might judge this book by its cover as well. The language might be hard to understand for some young children, but this also relates back to culture. This book could be read in a lesson involving Esperanza Rising and the subject of migrant farm workers especially in California.


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.


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.


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.

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