Pink and Say is the true story of two Union soldiers—one black and one white—during the Civil War and how they develop a friendship and stick together at such a challenging time. Say, the poor white soldier, tells this story which is passed on from generation to generation and ends up becoming Pink and Say because Patricia Polacco is Say’s great-great-granddaughter. The story opens with Pink finding Say in the field with a gunshot wound and decides to take Say back to the home where his family members are slaves. Pink’s mom nurses Say back to health and Pink teaches Say to read. The boys bond and share their experiences with one another while supported by Moe Moe Bay, Pink’s mother. One evening, Say tells them how he touched the hand of Abraham Lincoln and he had Pink touch his hand so Pink could say he “touched the hand that shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln!” Pink wanted to get back to meet up with his fellow soldiers so as not to put his mother at risk for taking care of them but when they were ready to leave the following day, marauders come. The boys hide in the root cellar and wait for Moe to come get them, but she never does and they hear a gunshot outside—Moe was killed. As the boys try to meet the Union troops they are captured by the Confederate Army and shipped to Andersonville prison where they were separated, but not before they touched hands one last time. The book closes by sharing with the reader what happened next in each boy’s life and how Ms. Polacco is connected to the story.
How to Use this Book
This book would likely be used beginning in the upper grades—probably around the fourth grade—and can be used for a number of different discussions and activities. It could be used to look at the history of America and the Civil War, to look at racism and conflict, slavery, and even in a conversation about camaraderie and respecting/supporting those who are different from ourselves. In our book club conversation my group was saying how it might be valuable to look at the book in pieces rather than read the entire story at once. This would allow for a more thorough discussion and investigation. I also checked out online how some teachers have used the book and one suggestion was for the students to record questions they might have about slavery and then have them write a letter to a slave, a Confederate soldier, a Union soldier, a freed slave, a slave owner, a Confederate child, or a Union child (http://www.ltl.appstate.edu/litcircleunits/litcirunits_Fall00/slavery_civwar/launchactivity.html).
Social Justice Education
1. Self-Love and Acceptance: Moe Moe Bay helps Say gain a sense of self-love as she encourages him when he feels as though he is weak and not brave like Pink. She reminds him that you can be afraid even if you are brave and to not think negatively of herself and this conversation is revisited by Say later on. Pink also certainly has a strong sense of self-love and acceptance because he is willing to share his experiences with Say and acknowledge the strengths he has despite his family’s situation.
2. Respect for Others: This story is very profound, I feel, because of the seriousness of the issue treated so positively. The fact that Pink and Say is about the Civil War yet introduces two teenage boys of different racial backgrounds befriending and helping one another is incredible. Pink shares with Say the kind of life he and his family led as slaves in Georgia while Say tells a little about his family as well.
3. Exploring Issues of Social Justice: Pink and Say addresses racism and even classism to an extent. Racism is self-explanatory but classism I feel is also mentioned because though Pink is a slave, his wealthy owner educated him and provided him with some opportunities that Say, a white boy, had never received.
4. Social Movements and Social Change: Portrayed within Polacco’s picture book are a number of examples of how people struggled for social change. First, the story is set at the time of the Civil War which demonstrates a need (and movement) for social change and then the fact that Moe Moe Bay was killed and that the boys are separated and imprisoned/killed shows even further how difficult it was (and is) for people as they push for social change.