The Way We Play, a new children’s picture book by University of Minnesota medical student Hugh Burke and his friend Kylie Donohue, a student in Chicago, is about accepting and appreciating diversity of all types. The book was recently featured in the Star Tribune.
“Each animal brings different skill sets and weaknesses to the table,” said Burke, a 25-year-old Eden Prairie native and second-year medical student.
The book is about accepting and even appreciating diversity, in this case not primarily ethnic or racial diversity but diversity of skills. The book’s young animals — who represent human children at play — observe without judging their classmates’ varying levels of abilities.
“We see the hippo falling and getting up and he’s kind of laughing and modeling a lighthearted spirit,” Burke said. “He’s realizing, ‘This may not be my thing but that’s OK.’ ”
Or as the book’s teacher, Ms. Owl, puts it when she calls the class back inside after recess, “We’re special and different in what we can do, and from each of our friends, we learn something new. No matter how tall or how fast or how slow, when we play with each other we find ways to grow.”
Burke, who wants to become a pediatric or adolescent psychiatrist someday, hopes the book will form a connection with his future patients, whose skills may vary due to neurodivergent conditions such as autism.
His book may serve as a lesson for children who might be tempted to treat others differently because of their abilities. Research shows that kids with autism are more likely to be bullied. But Burke also wants to combat ableism, or lack of sensitivity toward people with disabilities, at every level. He belongs to a club in which medical students practice working with neurodiverse youth in a way that emphasizes individual kids’ needs rather than demanding that they conform to others’ expectations.
Burke has earmarked proceeds from the book and all future rights to Open Hearts Big Dreams.