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Pink and Say FREE unit study
Pink and Say
  Author & Illustrator: Patricia Polacco


Sheldon Curtis, 15, a white boy, lies badly wounded in a Civil War field in Georgia when Pinkus Aylee, an African American Union soldier about Sheldon's age, finds him and carries him home to his mother, Moe Moe Bay. Sheldon, known as Say, is nursed back to health in her nurturing care. But then she is killed by marauders, and the boys return to their units. They are then are captured and taken to Andersonville, where Pink is hanged within hours of their capture. One of the most touching moments is when Pink reads aloud from the Bible to Moe Moe and Say. Say tells them that he can't read, but then he offers something he's very proud of: he once shook Abraham Lincoln's hand.

Lessons by Wende

Please preview this book before reading to your children.


Psalms –

Pink read the Psalms of David to Say and Moe Moe Bay. Throughout the week, read a few Psalms with your child, many of which David wrote while he too was at battle.


Social Studies

Civil War –

Pink and Say were both Union soldiers in the Civil War. The Civil War, also known as the War Between the States, took place from 1861 till 1865. There were many reasons the war started, among them being states rights. The country was still young when states in the North and states in the South disagreed on the kind of government that should be in place. The Northern states, referred to as the Union, wanted a central government, which the states would have to answer to. The South, called the Confederate States, wanted their state governments to be sovereign, with a federal government having to answer to them.  The South decided that the only way they could retain their rights as sovereign states was to secede from the Union. Abraham Lincoln’s goal was to restore the Union, at any cost. He stated, “I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.” So he assembled his Union troops to try to force the Confederate states to stay in the Union.

The Confederate States were at a major disadvantage. They had fewer soldiers, less food, less factories, less financial backing, and fewer railroads than the North. Their only real advantage was that they were fighting on familiar grounds. In spite of their obstacles, during the first two years of the war, The South fought the good fight, winning battles such as those at Bull Run.  

Lincoln did not start out with an anti-slavery stance. He said, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union;”

Lincoln believed that it would be financially feasible to proclaim the slaves free in 1863. (see Slavery lesson). It would accomplish a few things:

-          The European banks, which favored the central government ideas of the North, used slavery as an excuse to deny loans and financing to the South. No slavery or no money.

-          England and France refused to militarily intervene on behalf of the Confederacy because of their pro-slavery stance

-          The Southern plantations, which profited the most by holding slaves, would be financially broken.

-          Europe stopped selling the South war materials, forcing them to make their own.

-          It caused a definitive line of division between the North and South, forcing people to decide between freed slaves or states’ rights.

It went downhill for the South from here. The North became more and more aggressive about destroying the South. The South would win battles here and there, thanks to courageous generals like “Stonewall” Jackson. But in the end, they went down in defeat. On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate forces to Union General Ulysses S. Grant.

After the last of the Confederate troops surrendered, the losses of soldiers were tallied up. The North had 359,500 dead and 275,000 wounded. The South had 258, 000 dead and more than 100,000 wounded. MilLions of fertile acres of farmland had been scorched and barren. The states, both North and South, had much work ahead of them to reconstruct what was lost.

Slavery –

The topic of slavery is best touched gently, especially with sensitive children. You know your child best, so only you know how much or little of this lesson should be shared with your child.

Pink and his family were slaves. Slaves were people, usually black Africans, who were purchased for the purpose of working for free. The person owning the slave was called the “Master”, and the slaves owned by the Master would take on his last name.

Some slaves lived and worked in the Master’s house, called the “big house”, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the personal needs of the Master’s family. These slaves received more food and clothing than other slaves, but were often separated from their families.

Other slaves worked on large farms called “plantations”, in shabby housing near the fields. They were often poorly clothed and poorly fed. Disobedient or unproductive slaves were beaten or sold.

In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued the “Emancipation Proclamation” proclaiming that all slaves were free. Blacks in the North were already free, and the South ignored the proclamation. As the Union soldiers took over the Confederate States, they freed the slaves who would then accompany the Union troops into battle.

Pink, whose home was in Georgia, had joined the Forty-eighth Colored division of the Union Army. In 1864, Union General Sherman took his troops on a path of destruction from Atlanta to Savannah. Houses, cotton gins, factories, warehouses, and railroads were demolished. He had instructed his troops to “forage liberally”, consuming all the foods in the fields so the Confederates would have no choice but to leave the South. People like Master Aylee fled their homes, and countless numbers of slaves such as Pink’s father followed the victorious Union Army.

By 1865 slavery was abolished. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified by 27 states, said: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Abraham Lincoln –

By the time your child is ready for a Level 4 unit, he has most likely heard of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. There are many books available, at varying reading levels, for your child to read during this unit. Encourage him to research Lincoln on his own. Here is a brief lesson about the life of this famous man.

Lincoln was born to a poor family on February 12, 1809 in a log cabin in the Kentucky wilderness. The Lincoln family moved around often, from Kentucky, to Indiana, to Illinois. Abe’s mother died when he was 9 years old. His father remarried, and his new stepmother was from whom Abe gained an interest in learning and reading. Abe grew very strong and tall (6’ 4”!), and at the age of twenty-one left home and began to study law. By 1836 he became a licensed lawyer and by 1846 he became involved in national politics. The Republican Party nominated him for President in 1860, and he was elected! Lincoln came into this position when the country was beginning to show much strife, the beginning of the War Between the States. In 1863 he issued the Emancipation Proclamation (see Slavery lesson), and via the 13th amendment, abolished slavery. He was reelected for a second term as President in 1864. The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865, and five days later Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth while watching a play. 

Andersonville –

Pink and Say were taken to one of the worst Confederate camps, Andersonville, Georgia. Andersonville was located in Sumter County. It consisted of twenty-six acres of land surrounded by stockade fence and was built to hold 10,000 prisoners. The land was all open, without shelter to offer protection against heat, rain, or frost. There was little food, with what was available of little to no nutritional value. There were no bathroom facilities, other than a narrow stream that ran through the middle of the camp, which also served as the prisoners’ water source. Of the 49,485 Union soldiers held at Andersonville, 12,464 died from exposure, malnutrition, scurvy, disease, or were shot. After the war, in 1865, Henry Wirz, Swiss superintendent of the prisoner camp, was hanged for “maliciously, willfully, and traitorously conspiring to injure the health and destroy the lives of Union soldiers.” Say was fortunate to survive the abuse, but Pink did not.


Fever –

Say said, “For a moment I thought I was fever-dreamin’” A fever is a rise in body temperature beyond the normal 98.6 degrees. It is a sign that the normal body processes are being disturbed, usually because an infection is present somewhere in the body. It is our body’s natural mechanism to fight the infection. Say’s leg was getting infected where it was hit with the musket ball, causing him to have a high fever. The symptoms of a fever can include hot and cold sweats, pain, delirious sleep, and/or convulsions. A low-grade fever, up to 101 degrees, should be treated by giving patient lots of liquids and bed rest. A fever higher than that should be lowered by giving a cool (not cold) bath, and/or treated with fever reducing medicine. It is recommended that your family doctor be contacted about a fever over 102 degrees.

First Aid –

A musket ball wounded Say’s leg. Judging by the illustrations, there was external bleeding and possible tissue damage. It is a good thing Pink’s mother knew some First-Aid. Say may have lost his leg to infection otherwise. In addition to knowing some basic first aid skills, it is important that the person treating the injury keeps a cool head so that he can make the right decisions about treatment. With a wound such as a bullet wound, the first thing you want to do is cover the injured area with clean, sterile gauze to prevent further infection. If gauze is not available, any clean material will do. Then, the bleeding needs to be stopped by applying direct pressure to the wound. The pressure must be firm and constant, adding (not changing) layers of cloth as needed. The wounded limb should be elevated as high as comfortable, as Pink did propping Say’s leg up with a blanket. A professional should then look at the limb, and the foreign object removed in a clean, sterile environment. Encourage your child to practice first aid on a sibling or parent. Act out the scene in the story where Pink is helping Say. 

Lead –

Say had a lead ball lodged in his leg. Lead is a heavy gray metal that is shiny, has a low melting point, and conducts electricity. Its element symbol on the periodic table is Pb, derived from the Latin word plumbum. Thousands of years ago people learned that this metal is easy to melt and form into shapes. The ancient Romans used it to make pipes. This is where our English word “plumbing” came from, and for a long time, pipes in America were also made of lead. Eventually it was realized that lead could be made into balls that could be shot out of muskets. A ball of this type was what was lodged into Say’s leg.

Throughout the years lead has been used in many items such as crystal glasses, batteries, toy soldiers, pencils, x-ray shields, and wheel weights. Gas and paint used to have lead in them too. It wasn’t until the last fifty years or so that people discovered how harmful lead can be. Lead, in the bloodstream, can be very toxic. For this reason, lead was removed from gas, paints, glasses, and pencils made in this country. Some countries, such as China, still use lead because it is cheap and easy to work with, so be careful purchasing items from outside America.

Language Arts

Vocabulary –

You may come across words in the story that your child is not familiar with. Many of these words have specific meanings in the military. They are separated here for your convenience.

General vocabulary:

Marauders – invaders who plunder

Mahogany – brownish red

Vittles – food

Smote – struck by force

Buckboard – a high four-wheeled open carriage

Military vocabulary:

Kit – a mess kit, consisting usually of metal plate, cup, bowl, and utensils.

Company – a body of men commanded by a captain, larger than a platoon and smaller than a battaLion; equivalent to a battery or troop.

Outfit – any group of persons regarded as a unit

Unit – a group of soldiers considered as a subdivision of a larger group

Trooper – soldier on horseback; cavalryman

Musket – firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder, made obsolete by the rifle

Camp – a group of tents or other temporary shelters where soldiers are housed

Deserter – a person who abandons his military post without the intention of coming back

Point of View –

The point of view is the vantage point from which the story is told. In first-person point of view, the story is told by one of the characters. In third-person point of view, someone outside the story tells the story. Ask your child from what point of view Pink and Say is told. Have him read the very first sentence of the story, “I watched the sun…” Who does the “I” refer to? Pink and Say is told in first-person point of view from the perspective of Say. As you read other stories to your child, he will now be able to recognize this literary detail.

Apostrophe –

An apostrophe is a punctuation mark that has a few different uses. Have your child look for the apostrophes throughout the story and identify the different uses.

Sometimes an apostrophe is used to show possession, by adding an apostrophe and then s to the end of a noun. Some examples in the story are: lad’s, harm’s, everyone’s, God’s, etc

Other times an apostrophe is used to show that one or more letters have been left out of a word to form a contraction. Some examples in the story are: it’s (it is); they’re (they are); can’t (can not); I’ll (I will); that’s (that is); don’t (do not); I’m (I am); they’ve (they have); there’s (there is); she’s (she is); etc.

Apostrophes are also used to spell words as they are actually spoken. These apostrophes are used frequently in this story as most of the g’s are left off the end of ing words. Some examples of this use are: tastin’, dreamin’, bein’, flyin’, soothin’, etc. 

As you read the story, have your child pick out the apostrophes and explain their usage to you.

Poetry –

Pink’s Master liked Pink to recite poetry to him. Have your child practice reciting poetry throughout the week. Here are some examples from a 1909 book, Inspiring Recitations:

The Veteran Talks

Yes, sir, I fought with Stonewall,

     And faced the fight with Lee;

But if this here Union goes to war,

     Make one more gun for me!

I don’t shrink from Sherman

     As he galloped to the sea;

But if this here Union goes to war,

     Make one more gun for me!

I was with ‘em at Manassas –

     The bully boys in gray;

I heard the thunderers roarin’

     Around Stonewall Jackson’s way,

And many a time this sword of mine

     Has blazed the route for Lee;

But if this old nation goes to war,

     Make one more gun for me!

I’m not so full o’ fighting,

     Nor half so full of fun,

As I was back in the sixties

     When I shouldered my old gun;

It may be that my hair is white –

     Such things, you know, must be –

But if this old Union’s in for war,

     Make one more gun for me!

I hain’t forgot my raisin’ –

     Nor how, in sixty-two

Or thereabouts, with battle shouts

     I charged the boys in blue;

And I say I fought with Stonewall,

     And blazed the way for Lee;

But if this old Union’s in for war,

     Make one more gun for me!

The Death of Lincoln
by William Cullen Bryant

O slow to smite and swift to spare,

     Gentle and merciful and just!

Who in the fear of God didst bear

     The sword of power, a nation’s trust!

In sorrow by thy bier we stand,

     Amid the awe that hushes all,

And speak the anguish of a land

     That shook with horror at thy fall.

Thy task is done; the bond are free;

     We bear thee to an honored grave,

Whose proudest monument shall be

     The broken fetters of the slave.

Pure was thy life; its bloody close

     Hath placed thee with the sons of light,

Among the noblest host of those

     Who perished in the cause of right.


Lincoln by Edgar Maclaren Swan

From out the strong, young west, he came,

     In those warlike days of yore,

When Freedom’s cry had reached the sky

     And rung from shore to shore.

He knew the world was watching him,

     He heard the words of scorn,

He felt the weight of a severed state,

     By cruel rebelLion torn.

But calling on Jehovah,

     He seized his mighty pen

And with a stroke, the chains he broke

     From a milLion bonded men.

He was a dauntless leader,

     As among the host he moved,

And he gave his life in the time of strife

     To save the cause he loved. 


Ordinal Numbers –

Ordinal numbers tell what order things are in. You could be standing first, second, or third in line. You could be celebrating you eighth, ninth, or tenth birthday. These numbers are ordinal numbers. Pink was in the Forty-eighth Colored division. Say was in the Ohio Twenty-fourth. Have your child pick out the ordinal numbers.

Story Problems –

~The story begins when Say was 15 years old, towards the end of the war in 1865. He died “a very old man in 1924.” Approximately how old was Say when he died?

~The North had 359,500 dead.  The South had 258, 000 dead. How many more dead did the North have?

~Pink and Say had three days walk to get back to their Union troops. Walking at a steady pace of four miles per hour, how far could they travel in three days?

~There were 9,500,000 people in the Southern states. 3,500,000 of those were slaves. What fraction of the population were slaves? (Make sure to reduce)

~There were 3,200,000 men who served as soldiers in the Civil War. 30% of them died or were wounded. How many soldiers died or were wounded?

~Of the 49,485 Union soldiers held at Andersonville, 12,464 died. What percentage of the prisoners died?

Graphing –

Graphing is a way to organize information such as statistics in a way that is easy to read and compare. There are different kinds of graphs including pie graphs and bar graphs. Have your child design graphs to reflect the following information:

Population – 70% in North, 30% in South

Food Grains - 70% in North, 30% in South

Bank Deposits – 81% in North, 19% in South

Factories – 86% in North, 14% in South

Soldiers – 66% in North, 34% in South

Miles of Railroads – 71% in North, 29% in South