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Book Title: Working Cotton|
The author of the book: Sherley Anne Williams
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 4.38 MB
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Reader ratings: 3.1
Edition: HMH Books for Young Readers
Date of issue: February 15th 1997
ISBN 13: 9780152014827
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With beauty and a sense of both pain and pleasure, Sherley Anne Williams describes the typical backbreaking day of a family of African American iterant migrant farm workers (who are harvesting cotton). Narrator Shelan (who is one of the children, and all of the children, except for baby Leanne, must in fact help with the harvesting) describes how the whole family arrives before dawn and labours until nightfall to fill their sacks with cotton, with fluffy white clouds that might smell like morning and sweetness but still require much toil and effort to collect, to glean. Both poetic and at times also realistically harsh, Shelan’s narration is entirely presented in her dialect, her family’s vernacular, and although especially the phrasing and the verb endings (or rather, the lack thereof) may indeed require careful reading (for not only children, but potentially also for adults reading Working Cotton with or to children), this most definitely and appreciatively adds necessary authenticity and colour, as a difficult way of life is depicted.
However, Sherley Ann Williams also does in not in any way pass a negative judgment here, as while the work in the cotton field is difficult and arduous, her characters sing and play, are conscious of the beauty around them and are above all proud of a job well-done (that the father can fill his sacks not only in record time, but that there is so much harvested cotton it takes a long time to empty into the waiting trailer). Carol M. Byard’s accompanying acrylic paintings capture not only the beauty of the land but also the struggle and intensity of manual farm work (clearly demonstrating and showing, for example, that hand picking cotton all day is, indeed, hot and sweaty work). And while some readers might well object to the mere concept of African Americans being depicted as picking cotton in a picture book geared towards younger children, Shelan’s family has obviously embraced this way of life, doing what it takes to make ends meet, to earn a wage. Recommended, although personally, I sure would appreciate (and even rather require) a bit more in the author’s note with regard to manual farm labour and farming tasks in a general and pan-global sense, as this is really an international given and issue (for example, in many parts of Southern Germany and Austria, children actually still get school holidays during the fall potato harvest, as all hands are required on family farms, and thus Sherley Ann Williams' supplemental note, while definitely evocative, important and educational is also for me rather too limited, and not nearly international enough in scope).
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Read information about the authorSherley Anne Williams (August 25, 1944 – July 6, 1999) was an African-American poet, novelist, professor, and social critic. Many of her works tell stories about her life in the African-American community.
Williams was born in Bakersfield, California. When she was little her family picked cotton in order to get money. At the age of eight her father died of tuberculosis and when she was sixteen her mother died. She graduated from Thomas Alva Edison High School in Fresno California in 1962. In 1966 she earned her bachelor's degree in English at what is now California State University at Fresno and she received her master's degree at Brown University in 1972. The following year (1973) she became a professor of English Literature at the University of California at San Diego. She traveled to Ghana under a 1984 Fulbright grant. Her works include collections of poetry such as The Peacock Poems (1975), the novel Dessa Rose (1986), and two picture books. She also published the groundbreaking work Give Birth to Brightness: A Thematic Study of Neo-Black Literature in 1972.
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