• Kim Piekos

Passion for Battlefield History Inspires LFHS Student to Write Children’s Book

By Kim Piekos

A passion since childhood for America’s battlefields and a desire to tell unusual stories about women who fought on them in the Civil War was the inspiration for Lake Forest High School junior Sydney Kirages’ recently published book, Stories with Pop Pop: Women in Disguise – The Civil War.

Kirages credits her interest in battlefields to her grandfather, longtime Lake Forest resident Thomas Fitzgerald.

“My teachers helped catch grammar mistakes, things I would have missed, and made the book even better," says Sydney Kirages. “He would take our family on trips to significant battlefields,” she explains. “Seeing history in person is a very different experience than studying it in a textbook. It makes history come alive.”

While reading her older brother’s U.S. history term paper, she clicked on a link to the American Battlefield Trust (ABT). “That took me down a rabbit hole,” she says. In 2021, Kirages was accepted into ABT’s Youth Leadership Team, which consists of 14 high school students from across the country who work to preserve battlefields and educate about what happened at each and why it matters. “I was so happy to be a part of a team with other kids passionate about the same thing,” she says.

An admirer of Disney’s Mulan character for her courage and bravery, an idea was sparked when Kirages noticed information on the ABT website about female warriors who disguised themselves as men and fought in U.S. battles. Kirages chose to write a children’s book in conjunction with the trust featuring three women who fought in the Civil War for her ABT capstone project. “My goal was to bring their stories to life for readers,” Kirages says. “To discover there were Mulan-like warriors in America’s past was eye-opening for me. These stories further encourage girls to be who they want to be.”

Though Kirages wrote the book for children ages 6-12, she hopes it will move the hearts of older readers as well. “As a child, I watched Disney princess movies and loved their dresses, songs and stories. Now that I’m older, I also see how courageous and strong these female characters are, how much deeper they are than they initially appeared,” says Kirages, who envisions writing a similar book that focuses on women who have fought in the Revolutionary War. “I hope important concepts, like equality for women in the military, can come out of my book as well as an understanding of what happened and how far we have come.”

Being involved with ABT’s Youth Leadership Team and writing this book has opened many doors to Kirages. She lobbied Congress earlier this year to release funds to preserve battlefields, presented at the ABT’s annual conference, was invited to be in the judging booth for the Lake Forest Day parade, continues to volunteer with American Legion Post 264 and has forged a friendship with U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, who requested two copies of her book.

Kirages says writing the book has been life-changing for her. Not only has she come to understand how to write and edit a book, she learned how to select and collaborate with an illustrator and how to get rights from a large company, Disney. “I learned that it’s ok for a young person like me to ask for what I want,” she explains. “It’s awkward at first, but I’ve realized I have power and good ideas, too. I need to trust them and be confident in them.”

Kirages is grateful to teachers from Lake Forest High School and Deer Path Middle School who helped her refine the book. I’ve learned it’s good to ask for help,” she says. “My teachers helped catch grammar mistakes, things I would have missed, and made the book even better.”

Kirages was thrilled when she first held her book. “I had trouble believing it was my book!” she says. “If you had told me a year ago I would write a book, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Dedicating the book to her parents, grandparents and other helpful mentors has meant a lot to Kirages. “My grandparents didn’t know they were the book’s main characters and that they would be portrayed in the illustrations,” she laughs. “They were really surprised!”

In addition to writing this book, Kirages is a co-captain of the LFHS varsity robotics team, senior editor of the yearbook, plays in the orchestra, acts in senior-directed theatre One Acts and is on Student Council for the seventh year in a row. “I love filling my life with so many different things,” says Kirages, who is interested in pursuing a career in medicine.

She expects to continue her involvement with the American Battlefield Trust. “Preservation of battlefields is so important to me – it’s my childhood, it’s our country’s history. I grew up on them and want others to walk the hallowed ground and appreciate the sacrifices and importance of our forefathers even today.”