cover image Working Cotton

Working Cotton

Sherley Anne Williams, Shirley A. Williams. Harcourt Children's Books, $17 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-15-299624-6

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.)