Book Review 6 – Pink and Say
A white Union soldier, named Say, who is just a boy is injured and left on a battle field until an African American soldier, named Pink, found him and brought him back to his mother’s house to nurse him back to health. Pink’s mother, Moe Moe Bay, helps Say back to health and slowly but surely Say is able to walk again and move about. Pink is desperate to get back to the fight as he sees it as his fight against slavery in the country. He asks Say if it isn’t his fight too? Say, despite claiming himself to be a coward, is assured by Moe Moe Bay that he is no coward and afterwards he decides to go back to the fight with Pink. As they are about to leave, marauders attack Moe Moe Bay’s house and the boys hide in the cellar while Moe Moe Bay is killed. Pink and Say bury her and then head back to join the Union army. On their way, they are captured by the Confederates and are put into a prisoner camp. Pink is hanged within hours of being taken to the camp while Say is held until the end of the war. Say moves to Michigan and starts a family, and the story is passed down generation to generation about Pink and Say.
Polacco, P. (1994). Pink and Say. New York, NY: Philomel Books.
This is a very powerful book. Patricia Polacco tells a story of her great great grandfather on the battlefield of Georgia as a kid who is left to die until he is found by a former slave fighting in the Union army named Pinkus Aylee, or Pink. Sheldon Curtis, or Say, is recovered, painstakingly brought back to Pink’s home, and nursed back to health by Pink’s mom Moe Moe Bay. Say is saved from certain death and back in good health while Pink and Moe Moe Bay both die. Polacco does an excellent job immortalizing their sacrifice so her ancestor could live on and found a big family in Michigan.
Pink is a strong character that has convictions for good. He is opposed to the sickness of slavery and is willing to sacrifice his life to defeat those that would keep it instituted. As a soldier, Pink tells Say stories about how he and his unit were ill-equipped for warfare, using clubs instead of guns. When they finally received guns, they were old and untrustworthy guns from the Mexican-American War. Despite being poorly equipped, Pink desperately wants to return to the fight – a great character trait and one worth memorializing with a book.
Say on the other hand confesses that he was afraid during battle and ran away from his unit, a deserter. While running away, he was injured and left for dead. He is also unwilling at first to go back to the fight, but is finally convinced by Pink to do so. Moe Moe Bay consoles Say that he is no coward, but that he is a child. Polacco does well here with her artwork as Pink and Say look like teenage boys throughout the story. She also describes Say in such a way that makes it believable, a young boy in combat is terrified and runs away from the battle who then befriends African-Americans and is willing to return to the fight despite his fears.
Moe Moe Bay is a tragic figure that heals a stranger and then dies protecting her son and Say. She clearly feared for her son and did not want him to return to the fight but helped all the same. Moe Moe Bay dies so abruptly near the end yet the image her lifeless in her son’s arms and his speaking to her is a sad and powerful moment.
The story is a historical fiction book and Polacco does well making the world seem realistic and accurate for the time. Very little could be done for the sick and injured and many died on the battlefield when today they could be saved. Say had never seen an African-American up close, something in rural Ohio and much of the North in the 1860’s was probably true. Marauders raided from their army camps to gather supplies, a fear that people had to live with, and being shot and killed by a group of soldiers was not uncommon. Pink and Say did not go to prison camp together as they would have separated whites and blacks, and Pink was hung upon getting to the camp while Say was allowed to live, albeit in horrible conditions. While the story was sad, overall it seemed to have an uplifting mood in the end as Say survived to start a family and honored Pink with telling his story to his family who then passed it down from generation to generation.
This book, the story of Polacco’s great-great-grandfather, has been passed down from generation to generation in the author-artist’s family. Fifteen-year-old soldier Sheldon Russell Curtis – Say to his family – has been left for dead on a Civil War battlefield somewhere in Georgia. A fellow Union soldier, Pinkus Aylee, who is African American – “I had never seen a man like him so close before. His skin was the color of polished mahogany” – discovers him and, with much effort, drags the feverish Say home, where his mother, a slave named Moe Moe Bay, nurses Say back to health. As the boys regain their strength, they become as close as real family and discuss things close to their hearts. Pink shares his special talent: Master Aylee, his owner, had taught him how to read. “‘To be born a slave is a heap o’ trouble, Say. But after Aylee taught me to read, even though he owned my person, I knew that nobody, ever, could really own me.'” Say receives special comfort from Moe Moe when he admits that he deserted his troop and is afraid to return to the war. On the morning the two boys plan to leave and search for their respective troops, marauding Confederate soldiers arrive and kill Moe Moe. Pink and Say are later captured and become prisoners of the Confederate Army, in Andersonville. Although Say lived to tell this story of friendship and brotherhood, Pink was hanged within hours of arriving at the dreaded prison. Told in Say’s colorful, country-fresh voice, the text incorporates authentic-sounding dialect and expressions – such as darky – that would have been used at the time. Polacco’s characteristic acrylic, ink, and pencil illustrations are suitably dramatic and focus on the intense physical and emotional joy and pain of the story’s three main characters. The remarkable story, made even more extraordinary in its basis in actual events, raises questions about courage, war, family, and slavery. A not-to-be-missed tour de force.
Fader, E. and Silvey, A. (1994). Pink and Say. Horn Book Magazine 70(6), p. 724-725.
Pink and Say is a historical fiction picture book that can be used to introduce students to books that use a historical period of time as a setting. The book has many elements that can be shown how the author uses some fictionalized content, such as dialog, but overall has many elements that are factual about the time period. Students can analyze the writing to determine what is fictional and what is accurate in this book and for teh historical fiction genre as a whole.