Writing the Future


Adelaide Sullivan, Writer

I was in my U.S. History course, watching a documentary on the Vietnam War. Our teacher had encouraged us to consider the question,“ Is war ever necessary?”

I was a junior in high school and up to this point, I don’t think I ever really thought about this question. I loved history. The stories and the people involved in those stories pulled me into asking more questions and digging deeper into the realities of our diverse histories. However, this short but complicated question that my teacher asked us made me stop and think. Instead of just reading these stories as events and tragedies happening far in our past, I began to realize that these are narratives of real people and real consequences. One of these consequences that seems to repeat itself throughout our history is war and the impact it has on society.

During this class, I saw a picture of a soldier. He was wearing the traditional helmet of the time. Written on the elastic band in all capitals where the rim meets the hat were the words “WAR IS HELL.” This woke me up to the impact war has on the people involved as well as the people they are fighting to protect. This man was fighting for freedom, but was was not free from the violence and pain he fought through in Vietnam — the kind of violence and pain that follows many veterans of war home. I wondered if war is ever necessary. I began to realize that there has to be other ways to solve these national disagreements without killing people. I also recognized how powerfully stories and pictures communicate ideas that help us understand differences and the beauty of those differences.

By combining my love for art with my love for writing, I was able to find a way to make my own impact. I began to wonder if, instead of being a historian, I should work toward becoming an author and illustrator of children’s books that could focus on connecting lessons from our past to current issues. I am hoping that, similar to some of my favorite authors and illustrators (Patricia Polacco, Tolkien, Rick Riordon, and J.K Rowling), I could make a difference in how we treat others who are different from us through the stories that I would write.

I now know that I have found courage in defending and a clearer understanding of differences because of the influential authors in my life. Each of the people listed above have encountered challenges that influenced their writing and inspire my own.

Patricia Polacco’s books are some of the first stories that opened my eyes to the power of differences. She uses different genres to help children and adults explore and better understand diverse people and their experiences. Whether they are painful, joyful, personal, and/or historical, she invites us to know her characters. I’ve learned how powerful one person’s story can be from her and many other authors and illustrators. One of my favorites is “The Junkyard Wonders,” where a young Patricia experienced the difficulties of a new school, making friends, and knowing who is a kind person and who is not. Stories like this can influence how people overcome social barriers and encourage all of us to make a difference in society.

Congressman Lewis, his co-author Aydin, and illustrator Powell are the co- creators of a three book series called MARCH. In this graphic novel, we follow John Lewis as he journeys from his home in Alabama in 1963- to the steps of congress during the inauguration of Barack Obama. It’s a story about how men and women, white and black, came together to make the world more aware of the injustice and violence that was protected through segregation laws. It took a long time for the U.S. laws to change and protect all people of all races, and we’re still not there. But I still have hope for the future because of stories that prove that when people come together with love and compassion and unified voices, they can overcome hate and cruelty.

My response to my history teacher’s question is “no.” Instead, I believe that we should work to understand others and our differences with care and creativity. I am hopeful to join other authors and illustrators who are working to help society understand and embrace the power of imagery to accept the differences of all people.