From School Library Journal
Grade 4 Up-This picture book set during the Civil War is a departure for Polacco in terms of content and audience. It is certainly the deepest and most serious book she has done. Sheldon Curtis, 15, a white boy, lies badly wounded in a 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. This is a central image in the story, and is what ties the boys together for a final time, as Pink cries, "'Let me touch the hand that touched Mr. Lincoln, Say, just one last time.'" The picture of their clasped hands, with the hands of the soldiers wrenching them apart, is exceptionally moving. Polacco's artwork, in fact, has never been better. She uses dramatic perspectives, dynamic compositions, and faces full of emotion to carry her powerful tale. History comes to life in this remarkable book.Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Ages 5-9. Hands and gestures have always been important in Polacco's work. Here they are at the center of a picture book based on a true incident in the author's own family history. It's a story of interracial friendship during the Civil War between two 15-year-old Union soldiers. Say, who is white and poor, tells how he is rescued by Pinkus (Pink), who carries the wounded Say back to the Georgia home where Pink's black family were slaves. In a kind of idyllic interlude, Pink and his mother nurse Say back to health, and Pink teaches his friend to read; but before they can leave, marauders kill Pink's mother and drag the boys to Andersonville prison. Pink is hanged, but Say survives to tell the story and pass it on across generations. The figure of Pink's mother borders on the sentimental, but the boys' relationship is beautifully drawn. Throughout the story there are heartbreaking images of people torn from a loving embrace. Pictures on the title and copyright pages show the parallel partings as each boy leaves his family to go to war. At the end, when the friends are wrenched apart in prison, the widening space between their outstretched hands expresses all the sorrow of the war. Then, in a powerful double-page spread, they are able to clasp hands for a moment, and their union is like a rope. Say once shook Lincoln's hand, just as Say held Pink's hand, and Say tells his children, who tell theirs, that they have touched the hand that touched the hand . . . Hazel Rochman