This past August, Drake University employee Shannon Hilscher released her first book, an allegorical novel with a message of inclusion. “The Unexpected Adventure That Changed My World” is designed for fifth and sixth graders, but Hilscher thinks that readers of all ages can learn something by discussing the themes of the book.
The setting is divided into nine worlds, and everything in each world is the same color: the sky, the environment, the people, and so forth. There is a blue world, a red world, a green world, and so on. The nine worlds have little knowledge of one another at first, but when a girl named Ingrid from the gray world discovers the white world, the process of integration begins.
As Ingrid and Oliver, a boy from the white world, search for the doors to other worlds, they struggle to balance caution and their desire to explore. Oliver is particularly worried about the consequences that could arise if they were caught by people from the white world.
“[Oliver]’s fully aware that [searching for the other worlds] is against the law, and that he’s risking something… to do this exploration,” Hilscher explained. “So they do it at night, and they’re very cautious in how they do it.”
Later in the story, as people of different colors begin to mingle, one world’s government attempts to closely regulate the movement of people and objects between their world and the others.
“And so it goes through the discovery process and the reactions, both positive and negative, and basically the main two characters end up being kind of like a grassroots effort,” Hilscher said. “There’s some symbolism here… the one world in particular wants to stay pure. It doesn’t want anybody that doesn’t look like them. Part of it’s because they’re worried that people will actually like their world too much and will want to stay and take advantage of them.”
Hilscher’s book contains an example of cross-racial understanding that applies to the real world.
“I have a line that says, ‘From what I’ve read, it’s hard to understand the black world if you haven’t lived in it,’” Hilscher said. “…More literally in my book, in the black world, they’re absorbing all the color and light. Because of that, they’re really expressive in their dance and their music, and I relate that statement to the science behind color. But at the same time, that message could totally be read in the context of Black Lives Matter, because with white privilege, I have no idea what it’s like to live as a black person.”
Another connection to this issue occurs when Oliver reflects on an altercation between citizens of two different worlds:
“From his perspective, tonight’s scuffle was inappropriate, avoidable, and stemmed from fear and ignorance. What can we do to promote peace?”
Hilscher works as an instructional designer in Drake’s Online and Continuing Education Department. Her job involves taking a close look at upcoming online courses at Drake to find ways in which they can be improved. Additionally, she has experience as an upper elementary school teacher.
“I wanted to have a good [middle-grade level] book that could be used… to challenge a strong reader, but that was symbolic, and used a lot of really descriptive language to create imagery,” Hilscher said.
Hilscher said that, so far, the majority of her readers have been adults. However, she has been working on course materials that could accompany her book for elementary or middle-school classrooms. These materials may address the meaning and science of color as well as figurative language and diversity.
“…Ideally, what I want to do, is have an online course [in which] the student can actually go on, they can read the book, and they can have these lessons that are tied directly to the course standards for that grade level,” Hilscher said.
Hilscher hopes that her book will be helpful to educators who are struggling to teach online during the pandemic.
“To me [the book is] very timely, with current events,” Hilscher said. “[It’s packaged] in a way that could be helpful to teachers, or homeschool parents.”
She says that the main message of her book is about “being bold, and standing up” when someone has an ethical concern. Some of Hilscher’s inspiration came from the song “My Shot” from the musical “Hamilton.”
“This book ended up becoming a way for me to share my voice,” Hilscher said. “The responses I’ve gotten are that it’s harmonious, it’s peaceful, it’s not in-your-face, like a lot of social media has been, but it gets people to stop and think, and that was my goal.”