History is a big seller for me. I love learning about it anyway I can: movies, television, documentaries, books. After recently finishing up Gone With the Wind I’ve become pretty interested in the American Civil War so I thought I’d check out some other media about it. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d find a children’s picture book about it–nor as heavy and foreboding a children’s picture book as Pink and Say.
This story, Pink and Say, is about a young black soldier who rescues a young white soldier who has been left for dead. He carries him home to his mother in Georgia who helps nurse him back to health. The two soldiers strike up an unlikely friendship but, unfortunately, it ends in tragedy.Patricia Barber Polacco is the author and illustrator of Pink and Say along with many, many other picture books for children. Polacco struggled in school as she had dyslexia and was unable to read until she was fourteen. She found relief by expressing herself through art until a school teacher recognized that she couldn’t read and helped her overcome it (if you’re interested in that story, her book Thank You, Mr. Falker is her retelling and tribute to the teacher who helped her).
As the title of the book suggests, the main characters of this piece are Pink and Say. Pink is the black soldier, and Say the white soldier, but they’re both fifteen and they’re both fighting for the Union so they become kin. Their friendship is very touching and well developed. Polacco does an amazing job of showing how friendship can cross colour lines. She deals with such character traits as compassion and selflessness with ease and it’s all very natural. Like Say being scared of going back to the fighting. You don’t see him as a coward, you see him for the fifteen year old boy that he is. I especially like Pink and how he admitted he was scared to fight too, but that he had too because it was his fight. His angry and pride and courage are shown all at once in just that one section of the story and that’s something that a lot of author’s can do so naturally.
All that about characters being said, this is a very heavily themed book, but with a topic like the Civil
The art style of Pink and Say is rough, kind of spur-of-the-moment (if you know what I mean). The lines aren’t all perfect, the proportions are strange, and the colouring looks like it could have been done by a kid with markers in some spots, but that all adds to the experience. The story is emotional so it’s only fitting that the artwork also be emotional; that it invokes a kind of stirring in you of textures and grit and pain. It’s all quite exquisite when looking at it as a whole package of story and art.
There are few picture books written about the Civil War, fewer still based on such emotionally charged true stories. Although this book had a tragic ending, the story is a poignant tribute to an interracial friendship that developed during a time when such a thing was severely punishable. While younger students may not fully understand or appreciate the story and/or its underlying themes of racism and war, the basic idea of friendship will resonate with all readers.
My final thoughts on Pink and Say are that it is incredibly heart-wrenching but it’s also incredibly important in the realm of children’s literature and history itself. It’s a true story kept alive by the gorgeous artwork and skilful language of Patricia Barber Polacco. It’s a tale that keeps being told to make people realize just how inhumane we are to our fellow man and to maybe persuade us–teach us–to take a different approach, to be respectful, to lend a helping hand and, in that, it readily succeeds.