The first time I heard Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco read aloud – it changed my life – literally. I was absolutely mesmerized. Patricia Polacco has this uncanny ability that gets straight to the heart.
The author shares the story that she claims has been passed down through the generations from her great-great grandfather Sheldon (Say) Curtis about his friendship with Pinkus (Pink) Aylee during the Civil War. Say is a teenaged white soldier from Ohio who is injured in battle in Georgia and discovered by Pink, an African American soldier. Pink brings him back to his home to be tended to by his mother. While he mends, Say bonds with Pink and his family but the two young soldiers are eventually caught by Confederates and sent to the prison camp Andersonville. Pink's fate breaks your heart, but Say keeps his memory alive as he survives the war, and the book puts a human face on the devastation of this terrible time in our nation's history.
I was finishing my graduate work in music performance at the University of Colorado and I decided to take a children’s literature course taught by Professor Shelby Wolf. When Shelby read aloud she would become the characters; she could take us on their adventures while simultaneously sparking class dialogue about so many issues and topics. Shelby’s passion was social justice and we were always digging into books that illustrated these issues. After leaving my first class with Shelby, I questioned my whole life’s journey as a musician. It was in that moment that I realized I wanted to explore elementary education; I wanted to make a difference. I extended my graduate studies one more year to get my elementary teaching credential. This began my journey as an educator and I have never looked back, it was the best decision I have ever made.
I will never forget the day that we read Pink and Say in class. Shelby began reading the story and then passed the book to each one of us to read a page or two. When it was my turn to read, I got the book and my voice was quivering because I was full of emotion. As the book drew to a close Shelby read the last page.
This book serves as a written memory to Pinkus Aylee since there are no
living descendants to do this for him. When you read this, before you put this
book down, say his name out loud and vow to remember him always.
Our class was silent for a moment and then Shelby had us say his name out loud three times. Our class was transformed.
I was transformed.
I had never realized the power of a picture book and how much a book could transform a moment and create collective energy by engaging in powerful group think. Picture books can introduce complex ideas and concepts in a safe and nurturing environment. They are more than stories, they are works of art. No matter what the topic, concept, issue or emotion, there is most likely a picture book that addresses it.
The authors of picture books become the best writing teachers. We look to Sandra Cisneros and her book Hairs/Pelitos learn how to write descriptively.
Picture books support us in teaching about universal theme. One of my favorites is The Table Where Rich People Sit by Byrd Baylor. A great reminder of how rich we all are, if we look beyond material possessions.
When teaching about point of view and perspective you can’t go wrong with Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne. Possibly the best book for teaching point of view – four “voices” tell their version of a walk in the park.
It is impossible to find a favorite picture book because there are so many that have inspired me to become a better teacher, a more empathetic person and to be a better human being. I can’t imagine teaching without them. I owe this love of picture books to Shelby Wolf – the person who inspired me to be a teacher.
Dr. Paul Bloomberg is a Corwin Press bestselling co-author of Impact Teams-Building a Culture of Efficacy and a co-author of The Empowered Learner, Student-Centered Assessment Toolkit by Schoolwide Publishing. He is also the CEO and founder of the Core Collaborative, a professional learning network devoted to putting students at the center.