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Learning and tearing up with Patricia Polacco's 'Pink and Say'

When N, a History teacher reached out to me for resources that could support her unit on the American Civil War, I remembered that I had ‘PINK AND SAY’ by Patricia Polacco in my personal collection and planned a read-aloud of this for the Grade 8 library session, that week. .

Front cover of the book Pink and Say featuring two young boys. The black young boy is reading a book and a white boy is looking over his shoulder.

I always prepare for each session at home, reading the books, anticipating where questions may arise, and if they do…do I offer an answer or do I nudge students to look it up themselves…leading them onto further reading. I try to understand the background of the story, characters, settings the authors purpose, by reading up, plan where I can subtly include strategies that will help comprehension and in this case, linking the story to the curriculum. I read up the background to events, characters or settings of stories, in-order to deeply understand the story and to be able to effectively answer any questions that may arise and know if the connections being made by the children are meaningful.

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As I read Pink and Say, I found my eyes fill with tears and my throat tighten and I thought, how am I going to read this aloud without breaking down. As I dressed of school on the day, I dug in my cupboard for a handkerchief (yes, I’m old fashioned enough to own some!!) and tucked it into my handbag.

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As I sat down on the ‘read-aloud’ chair, I asked the children to settle in as this was a long story. My voice cracked right in the beginning, reading the foreword. This garnered a few quizzical stares and smirks exchanged between my mosty tween and early teens.

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But as I went on, I looked up to find the fidgeting and wise cracks stop, eyes well up, faces turn pink…boys, girls and I, all crying together. Where was my handkerchief…I desperately searched my pockets as the tears streamed down my face. By the end of the book, we stared at each other with our tear filled eyes and then the children reached out to each other and me for a hug.

Through all the tears and with choked voices, the children connected events, places and terms in the story to what they had learned during their history class.

A few red-eyed ‘boys’ felt they meaninglessly had to exclaim that they hadn’t cried…but there was not a dry eye in that room, even our Librarian V, sitting at his desk on the opposite end of the room, asked to read the book at the end of the session.


An illustration from the book Pink and Say...a black soldier is helping a white soldier who is wounded and lying on the grass.

When a wounded 15 year old Say, a white soldier is rescued by Pink a black teen of the same age, he is carried back to Pink’s Georgia home where he and his family were slaves. Nursed back to health by Pink’s mother, Moe Moe Bay, Say begins to understand why Pink is so adamant on returning to the war… to fight against “the sickness” that is slavery.

When marauders take Moe Moe Bay’s life, Say who had planned on deserting the army…is driven to fight. Ultimately, both boys are taken prisoners of the Confederate Army.

Say survives, but Pink is hanged.


One of the more heartwarming moments of the story is when Say tells Pink and his mother that he once shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln. Convinced that his encounter is a “sign” of hope, Say reaches for Pink’s hand, exclaiming, “Now you can say you touched the hand that shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln!” At the end of the story when the boys are separated, Pink reaches for Say one last time to touch his hand.


A black hand and a white hand clasping each other tight. A darker hand is trying to pull the white hand away.

This is a true story of Patricia Polacco’s great-great grandfather’s (Say) brief friendship with Pinkus Aylee (Pink) during the Civil War. Polacco writes...this book “serves as a written memory” of Pink.


At the end of the story Patricia Polacco bids the reader, “Before you put this book down, say his name (Pinkus Aylee) out loud and vow to remember him always.”


This is such a tremendously powerful story, a heart-wrenching tale of injustice and prejudice and one that honors a hero who had no descendants to speak of his bravery and friendship


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OMG Pinkus Aylee, Pinkus Aylee, Pinkus Aylee!

What a moving tribute by tween/teen students and you. I hope you share this post with Patricia Polacco herself, she lives in Michigan in a tiny village. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patricia_Polacco

http://www.patriciapolacco.com/index.html

And I imagine that several students in your care become storytellers and book illustrators themselves.

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