Title: Cotton in My Sack
Author: Lois Lenski
Major Themes: American South, Arkansas, Cotton, Farming, Sharecropping
Synopsis: Joanda and her family have always lived a hard life as sharecroppers in Arkansas, but they want to better their lives.
I have enjoyed Lois Lenski’s books since I was fairly young. Our library had several of them, and we read all of them. Cotton in My Sack is part of a series she wrote to show children how children in other parts of America lived. She would go to the region she wanted to write about and get to know the people there, then write a story to show the lifestyle.
Cotton in My Sack lets us into the lives of sharecroppers growing cotton in Arkansas in the 1940s. Joanda and her family had always been sharecroppers. They would move to a farm in January and plant cotton in the fields, using the owner’s equipment. They would care for the crop all summer and harvest from October through December or January, and get half the profit, then move on. Charley Shands, however, encouraged Joanda’s father to save up to buy his own equipment and become a tenant farmer. He would make more money and a better living for his family that way. Would the family be able to save, or were their old habits of spending everything that came into their pockets too strong? What happens when Mama has a series of heart attacks?
Not only is this a story of farming in the South, it is also about the schools and the improvements that were being made. Joanda loved her new teacher, but she sure did some strange things. What was she doing with the cockroaches she caught in the kitchen?
We really enjoyed this book, although I did not appreciate the attitude towards the father. His wife and Joanda seemed to consider him incompetent—although I have to agree to a certain extent, as he tended to drink all their earnings up. The attitudes were not what I would approve of, though.
WARNING: Besides the attitudes mentioned above, the word “gee” is used on pages 73 and 109, and “golly” is used on pages 88, 110, 125, 131, 163, and 179.
Listening Level—Ages 5 – 8, 8 – 12, Family Friendly
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12