Thursday, May 14, 2009
OHP BOOK REVIEW: PINK AND SAY BY PATRICIA POLACCO
Novel, illustrated, 1994. Philomel Books a division of The Putman & Grosset Group, 200 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016, $16.99 plus shipping.
Over the years, many books have become favorites of history teachers to help students better visualize a specific period of time. Pink and Say is used by many elementary and middle school teachers to discuss the War Between the States. Though it is listed as fiction, many educators try to state it is factual. With the sesquicentennial on the horizon, it is imperative to make sure what is being taught in the classroom is accurate and true.
The setting for Pink and Say is somewhere in Georgia after an unknown “fierce” battle in an unidentified year. The key characters are Pinkus Aylee, better known as Pink, a slave from Georgia, and Sheldon “Say” Russell Curtis, a young farm boy from Ohio. Both are fighting for the US Army. Pink stumbles upon Say, who had been wounded, in a “blood-soaked pasture” while in search for the 48th Colored Troops. Thus begins the story.
According to the author, Patricia Polacco, this account has been handed down through her family generation after generation and is true. Like with any folktale, there are elements based on fact, but much more is altered with time till the legitimacy of the account is questionable.
The first discrepancy in this publication is that the 48th Colored Troops were on garrison duty in Vicksburg, Mississippi. This regiment was organized on March 11, 1864. In reality, this regiment was never stationed in or near Georgia during the War Between the States. Additionally, General Sherman was against colored troops, so there were never any black regiments under his command. Upon future research, there is no documentation of a soldier by the name of Pinkus Aylee in any regiment in the Union Army according to the National Park Service. In considering the above facts, a shadow of doubt is put on the authenticity of the character of Pink.
Ms. Polacco states that Pink was owned by the family of Aylee from Georgia. His mother still lived in one of the slave homes on the plantation, but the master’s home was destroyed during the war. According to the 1860 census, there was no family in Georgia by that last name. Moreover, in searching the entire United States in the 1860s census there is no one with that last name either. In reviewing the similar variations of spelling of last names, none of the families met the criteria set up by the author to be Pink’s owner.
The other main character, Say, has some inaccuracies as well. Ms. Polacco states he was with the 24th Ohio Regiment as a color bearer because he was too young to fight. With some investigation, no one by the name of Sheldon R. Curtis served in this regiment; however, this name does appear on the roster of Company M, 6th Michigan Cavalry. Furthermore, the only veteran with that name listed in the 1890 Veterans’ Census verified the above information.
An age inaccuracy causes some misgivings about this character also. According to Ms. Polacco, Say is only 15 years old, but the soldier mentioned above was around 21 years of age. In fact, Mr. Curtis was married on May 10, 1860 to Miss Abigail M. Barnard in Ionia County, Michigan. With this fact being uncovered, this reviewer examined the possibilities of two people with the same name. However, no other solider could be found in the ranks of the US army with Say’s given name. Besides, Ms. Polacco supports Mr. Curtis’ history after the war in her book. This leads to the consideration that the soldier in the 6th Michigan Cavalry is the same as the one in the book.
Near the end of the tale, Pink and Say both are taken to Andersonville as captives of the Confederate Army. In Camp Sumter’s prisoners’ roster, it states that the person by the name of Sheldon R. Curtis in the Company M, 10th Michigan Cavalry was captured in Chancellorsville, Virginia on June 12, 1864. This is a deviation from the regiment listed on the soldier’s service record. There is no notation of anyone by the name of Pinkus Aylee ever being held in Andersonville. Per the story, he was hung; yet he is not listed among the dead.
It is important to note that Say was shot when running away from his unit, or better described as deserting. He does not desire to return to his regiment when Pink was eager to leave. He even discusses this with Pink’s mother. The author sugar coats it and states that it is because he is so young that he fears the war. In truth deserters were shot, branded or sent to prison for their cowardliness.
Pink and Say has won publication awards and has a curriculum written for teachers to use in the classroom; nevertheless, this book is not recommended to be used in any setting, much less a classroom. There are more inaccuracies within the pages of this publication, but for sake of time and space, the most significant factual errors are covered. This publication is truly a fiction book and should never be considered anything more.
Written by Cassie A. Barrow