A dash of creativity with a pinch of inspiration

Second-year medical student Hugh Burke writes a children’s book to highlight diversity and teamwork.

Hugh Burke, a second-year medical student at the University of Minnesota Medical School, wrote and published a children’s book which highlights the topic of diversity and teamwork for children in a fun and engaging way. Burke and co-author Kylie Donohue came together to collaborate on their children’s book, “The Way We Play.”

Unexpectedly, Burke came across the Fisch Arts award, which offers medical school students the opportunity to pursue creative projects. Burke took it as a sign to seek writing earnestly.

“Writing was definitely a time-consuming process,” recalls Burke. “I think once we decided to pursue the rhyme scheme, my co-author and I started having dedicated Zoom calls about once a week. We would just talk and develop the plot more and then some scenes to accompany that with the dialogue.”

Burke was encouraged by his faculty advisor, Woubeshet Ayenew, MD, who is involved with writing children’s books. “I always thought it was cool that a Physician takes time to write books in their free time, especially for a non-profit organization,” states Burke.

Dr. Ayenew is connected to an organization called Open Hearts Big Dreams. “All proceeds from the sale of this book will benefit Ready Set Go Books, a project of Open Hearts Big Dreams, a US 501(3)(c) which aims to increase the child literacy rate and love of reading in Ethiopia,” Burke says.

Jane Kurtz, a prolific children’s book author, who is also involved in the same organization, was eager to help Burke in his writing “The Way We Play.”

“From her accolades and what she’s done in her life, I knew she knew what she was talking about. [Her assist in] bringing out the rhyming scheme and her interpretation of rhythm was really helpful for us,” Burke notes.

His inspiration came from his desire to become a child and adolescent psychiatrist. “I thought this would be a good idea to engage with that in a creative way,” he says.

Burke is involved in a club at U of M Medical School called Neurodiversity in Medicine, where the book's central themes also stem from. “Initially, the idea was to do a book exclusively focused on neurodiversity. I think this book still addresses that in its own digestible way for kids, but I do think [the themes of] teamwork and learning what we can from each other along with neurodiversity are heavy themes with the book,” exclaims Burke.

After reading the book, Burke hopes that readers, especially adult readers, realize that kids have inherent power. He says this book is about empowering our youth and adults to see our youth as capable of learning and doing complex things.

Next for Burke is to continue writing. His ambition is to get four years of books written with the availability of the Fisch Arts award grant. “I hope that [“The Way We Play”] can continue to reach a broader audience,” he says. “Open Hearts Big Dreams is a great cause. The more people find out about it, purchase [“The Way We Play”] and support the non-profit–I would absolutely love that. I want the best for that organization.”