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Literature / Pink and Say

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"When Sheldon Russell Curtis told this story to his daughter, Rosa, she kept every word in her heart and was to retell it many times over in her long lifetime. . . I will tell it in Sheldon's own words as nearly as I can."

Pink and Say is a 1994 picture book written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco, based on a family story that was passed down to her by her father.

During the Civil War, 15-year-old Sheldon "Say" Curtis, a white Union Army soldier, is shot in the leg and lies on the battlefield, delirious with fever, for two days. He is rescued by Pinkus "Pink" Aylee, a former slave who is now in the Union Army. Pink takes Say home to Georgia where his mother, Moe Moe Bay, nurses him back to health.

The two become friends. Pink teaches Say to read. As Say gets closer to Pink and Moe Moe he realizes why Pink is passionate about fighting against slavery. But Pink wants to go back to fight the good fight. Their peace cannot last forever.

Pink and Say is a powerful book about the Civil War, slavery, and humanity's capacity for both good and evil. Make no mistake: it may be a picture book, but it will stay with you—always.

This book provides examples of:

  • Based on a True Story: The book is based on the life story of Patrica Polacco's great-great grandfather (Say), which her father told her.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Pink and Say set out to rejoin the Union army after Moe Moe Bay is killed by marauders, only to be captured by the Confederate army and sent to Andersonville prison camp, where Pink is hanged. But Say survives and lives a long life, and the story of his time with Pink is passed down to each new generation of his family, ensuring that his friend will never be forgotten.
  • Child Soldier: Pink and Say are both around 15. When Say tells Moe Moe that he is a coward and a deserter because he was running away when he was shot, she says "You ain't nothin' of the kind. You're a child. . . a child!"
  • Contrived Coincidence: Pink happens to wind up separated from his unit while he's just a few days' hike from the abandoned plantation where his mother lives, giving him a convenient safe place to take Say to recuperate. Nobody treats this as unusually convenient.
  • The Ghost: Pink's father Kaylo, who is said to have also joined the Union Army, never appears in the story. Neither the characters nor the audience ever learn whether he survived the war.
  • Hope Spot: Pink and Say manage to escape the Confederate marauders who killed Moe Moe Bay, and set out to rejoin the soldiers of the 48th. For one hot second, it looks like things are going to work out for them. Then they realize that they're being followed by Confederate soldiers...
  • It's Personal: Pink's attitude toward the Civil War in a nutshell: a former slave himself, he views the war as a deeply personal crusade to rid America of the "sickness" of slavery.
  • Meaningful Echo: In the middle of the story, Say tells Pink "Now you can say you touched the hand that shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln." At the end of the story,
    Patricia: "When my father finished this story, he put out his hand and said 'This is the hand, that has touched the hand, that has touched the hand, that shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln.'"
  • Never Learned to Read: Say is illiterate. Pink's former master taught him to read, so he offers to teach Say to read some day after the war. He never gets the chance.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Played for Drama: Say eventually admits to Moe Moe Bay that he was wounded while attempting to desert his unit, which he deeply regrets. His friendship with Pink—whose connection to the war is all too personal—renews his will to fight.

This book serves as a written memory for Pinkus Aylee since there are no living descendants to do this for him. When you read this, before you put this book down, say his name out loud and vow to remember him always.