Cotton in My Sack, Lois Lenski, J B Lippincott Company, 1949, 191 pp
This is the sixth book in Lois Lenski's American Regional Series. I missed it when reading the list of books from 1949, so I am adding it now. I also missed posting The Family Read yesterday, but since today is a school holiday, I am getting away with it!
Joanda's family are white share croppers in the cotton fields of Louisiana. The cotton grows almost right up to the walls of their tiny shack. To keep their lives going, the whole family picks cotton or helps in some way appropriate to their size and age. In this story whites, blacks, adults and children labor side by side and mostly in harmony.
The family subsists on money borrowed from the boss man, which they call "furnish." When the crop comes in they get paid, minus the money they have already borrowed. Usually by the time winter is over, they have run out of food and coal so must live on biscuits and beans, but it is the time when the children can go to school. During the growing season, when they do have money, the best day of the week is Saturday which they spend in town shopping.
As is usual in Lois Lenski's books, the Hutley family is the one that breaks out of this cycle of poverty and makes a better life due to hard work and a good bit of luck. The life of this family comes alive on the pages and in the illustrations. Joanda, though plucky and smart, has her share of worries and unfortunate events which she has to deal with by herself. Her father is always busy and her mother is overworked and in ill health, so Joanda also keeps watch over her baby sister, whom she loves to death.
My favorite book in the American Regional Series is Strawberry Girl, which won the Newbery Award. I don't remember reading Cotton in My Sack as a child but reading it now, I liked it just as well as Strawberry Girl. These days any kid can find out about the lives of other kids around the country and the world on television and the internet, so I like to think of Lois Lenski as a writer who had the vision to get this information out to children all on her own through books alone. It was an amazing feat on her part.
(Cotton in My Sack is out of print but can be found in the children's section of local libraries and from used booksellers.)