A new book from Simon & Schuster, aimed at younger readers, focuses on one of the most famous faces of the fight against the pandemic—Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Author Kate Messner, who lives on Lake Champlain in Vermont, and has two grown kids, wrote Dr. Fauci: How a Boy From Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor. She says the opportunity to write about Dr. Fauci came about why she was working on a different book during the spring of 2020 as COVID hit the United States. “It was a follow-up to my picture book The Next President called The Next Great Scientist, about the childhoods of people who grew up to be scientists. As part of my research for that book, I’d sent emails to a number of living scientists to gather information, and when I wrote to Dr. Fauci’s office, he shared a story about how he used to ride his bicycle around Brooklyn, delivering prescriptions for his parents’ pharmacy when he was a kid. It was a charming story – one that I kept thinking about, and as I read more about Dr. Fauci’s background, I realized that his life story would make a great picture book all on its own,” explains Kate. She reached out to his office for a Zoom interview, and the new book was born. We spoke to Kate about her book, helping reluctant readers, and more.
Can you share a bit about yourself and life as a mom?
My husband and I loved raising our family here on Lake Champlain, and as a writer, I always had an audience for my stories and great company on my research trips! When I was doing research on Pearl Harbor for titles in my Ranger in Time and History Smashers series, we made it into a family trip and had so many great conversations about history as we explored Hawaii. (See attached family photo!)
Why did you write this book for young readers?
Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor is aimed at elementary school kids. I wanted to tell this story for young readers because they’re at such an exciting time in their lives, learning about the world and how they fit into it, discovering what interests them and what they’re good at, and wondering who they’ll grow up to be. It’s a great time for kids to explore picture book biographies about people who have done important work in the world, so they can imagine the contributions they might make one day as well.
What was the most interesting part of writing this for you?
It was fascinating to see how the seeds of Dr. Fauci’s future contributions were planted way back in Brooklyn when he was growing up, not only in the work he did with the family pharmacy, but also in the way he really lived in two worlds. His home was in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood that could be a rough-and-tumble place at times, but he attended Regis High School in Manhattan, and he needed strong communication skills in both worlds. He was able to debate philosophy and the classics with his fellow scholars in class and then come home to play stickball in the streets and talk baseball with the neighborhood guys. That ability to communicate with lots of different kinds of people – and to do so with clarity and kindness – is so apparent in the work he’s done as one of the nation’s top infectious disease specialists.
What do you want any kid reading to take from it?
I hope kids who read this book will realize that even most famous scientists and public health experts we see on the news were once curious kids, just like them. I hope Dr. Fauci’s story will inspire young people to follow their dreams to pursue science and public health and help them understand that science is a process of exploration and discovery.
You’re a mom…how did you deal with explaining COVID, and now vaccines, to your kids?
I think it’s important to be honest with kids, providing accurate and age-appropriate information, even when it’s about something that can be scary, like COVID-19. Our kids are adults now, but when they were growing up, we always made it a point to explain things and answer their questions about the world honestly, with a basis in science (which might explain why we ended up with an engineer and a biologist!). When I was writing Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor, I wanted to offer teachers and families a resource for learning more about COVID-19 and vaccines – a jumping-off point for those important conversations. So in the back of the book, we included some pages that explain how vaccines work with the body’s immune system to keep people from getting sick and how they’re developed and tested to make sure they’re safe.
Do you have any tips for helping reluctant readers/raising readers?
In my experience, as both a parent and a former teacher, sharing lots of stories and honoring kids’ choices are the keys to raising readers. When we share lots of different kinds of read-alouds with kids – from funny stories to fairy tales to biographies – we open up whole worlds of possibility. From there, our kids discover what they love most, and by honoring those choices and giving kids agency to select their own reading material, we can help them grow into lifelong readers.
We always like to support local businesses. Can you please share your favorite places in your area to:
Go to dinner as a family
Go for date night
Leunig’s Bistro (https://www.leunigsbistro.com/petit-bijou-kiosk)
Go for girls night
Deep City Restaurant & Bar in Burlington (https://www.deepcityvt.com/#menu-heading-2)
Have fun as a family
Boating on Lake Champlain or hiking in the Adirondacks
I love independent bookstores! A few favorites are:
Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid, NY (https://www.thebookstoreplus.com/)
Phoenix Books in Burlington, VT (https://www.phoenixbooks.biz/)
Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, VT (https://www.flyingpigbooks.com/)
Anything else you’d like to share?
Families can learn more about all of my books at my website www.katemessner.com, and there’s also a contact form where kids can send me a note. I love to hear from families who are reading my books together, and I always try to send a quick note back!