Teaching History with Children’s Literature: Pink and Say


Patricia Polacco’s Pink and Say is the beautifully written story of two soldiers, Pinkus Aylee and Sheldon Russell Curtis, who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War.  The boys met when Pinkus (Pink) encountered Sheldon (Say), who was injured, and brought him home with him to recover.  Polacco dedicated the book “To the memory of Pinkus Aylee” and explains at the end that her great-great-grandfather was Sheldon Russell Curtis himself.  This information adds a nice personal touch to an already-phenomenal book.

The book begins with Say lying injured in a field.  Pink finds him, and insists upon bringing him home so he might recover.  The next time Say wakes up, he meets Pink’s mother, who feeds him oat porridge and asks, “Do your momma know what a beautiful baby boy she has?”  Say stays with the family for several weeks while he recovers, and Pink and Say become fast friends.  The morning the boys plan to leave to return to their regiments, Pink’s house is attacked by thieves and Pink’s mother, who he calls Moe Moe Bay, is killed.  Pink is insistent upon returning to fight, however, and as the boys are returning to the war, they are captured by Confederate Troops.  Pink, who is African American, is separated from Say, who survives the experience.  The book ends by showing Say as a grandfather who tells his grandchildren the story of his childhood friend.

Curriculum Connections

Pink and Say could be used to compliment any history SOL focused on the Civil War.  It’s a longer picture book with ample text, but the illustrations are also beautiful and appropriate for all ages.  The story might have more meaning to an upper elementary or middle schooler and could prompt conversation about civics or slavery, but could also be enjoyed by a younger student on a less intense level.  The book is very much about the story itself, and while it provides some background information about the war, it would probably be better suited as a lesson introduction or as a springboard for some sort of Civil War writing assignment.

Additional Resources

  • This site, put together by the National Park Service, provides lots of basic information about the Civil War and includes a 20-question challenge quiz, as well.  The wealth of information it provides makes this site a good choice for an Internet scavenger hunt about the Civil War.
  • This Webquest allows students to research the Underground Railroad and has them create a Powerpoint presentation based on their findings.   A Civil War Webquest like this one would be a great way  to delve deeper into the history of the War and incorporate technology into the classroom, as well.
  • When Pink and Say are captured, they are taken to Andersonville.  Today, Andersonville is a National Historic Site and its website provides students with information about its location and long history. There are sections of the site for both teachers and students, and pictures are also provided, so readers can imagine what Pink and Say went through after they were captured.

General Information

Book: Pink and Say
Author: Patricia Polacco
Illustrator: Patricia Polacco
Publisher: Philomel Books
Publication Date: 1994
Pages: 48
Grade Range: 2-6
: 0399226710

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