Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor- Interview with Author Kate Messner

June 29th and a new picture book is launched into the world- Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor, and I am thrilled that the author of the book, Kate Messner, joins me today to answer some questions about the book!

My questions for Kate are in bold/italics. Her answers follow.

At what point of the COVID-19 pandemic did you say, There needs to be a picture book about Dr. Fauci and I’m going to be the one to write it?

In March 2020, I was actually working on a different book called The Next Great Scientist, a follow-up to my 2020 picture book The Next President. It looks at the backgrounds of famous scientists and how they grew into their jobs, and as part of my research, I’d reached out to a number of living scientists to ask about their childhoods. Dr. Fauci was among them, and when I heard back from his office, particularly the story of how he used to ride his Schwinn bicycle around Brooklyn delivering prescriptions for his parents’ pharmacy, I realized that his story would make a wonderful picture book biography all on its own.  

What was the research process like for this book? 

I spent much of the summer of 2020 doing research about Dr. Fauci’s life – his family, his schooling and hobbies, and of course, his 40-year career at the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He’s served seven different presidents, so there’s a wealth of information out there, from interviews and speeches to newspaper articles. In the fall, I reached out to Dr. Fauci’s office again to request a Zoom interview, and he was gracious enough to make time at the end of one of his long days at NIAID for me to ask some questions.    

From the deal announcement to publication, this book has had a very quick turnaround time. Did you have to work at a faster speed to ensure a timely publication? 

While I spent the usual months researching and drafting this book, the revision process with my editor Kendra Levin at Simon & Schuster went much more quickly than usual. I often wait months to hear from an editor with notes on a project, but for this book, an editorial letter landed in my in-box immediately after the offer. Within a few weeks, Kendra and I had gone back and forth with multiple revisions. By then, illustrator Alexandra Bye was on board, and she did an absolutely incredible job going from sketches to final art in a matter of just a few months. It’s certainly the speediest publication timeline I’ve been involved in, and that makes good sense for a book with such a timely subject. We wanted this book to be available for kids while they’re still seeing Dr. Fauci on the news at night, and we were also eager to make sure the back matter, which deals with facts about vaccines and how they work, would be ready for kids who had questions about that, especially since there’s still so much misinformation circulating on that topic.   

What is the most interesting thing you learned about Dr. Anthony Fauci from your research/writing this book? 

What really fascinated me was how easy it is to see how the seeds of Dr. Fauci’s life work were planted during his school days in working-class Brooklyn. He told me a story about his dad, who was so encouraging any time Anthony and his sister were struggling with homework, reminding them that every problem has a solution. You just have to think about it carefully, keep an open mind, and never give up. That mindset is so clear in Dr. Fauci’s work studying infectious diseases through the years.    

Why do you feel it is important that readers know Dr. Fauci’s story? 

So often, kids see an expert like Dr. Fauci on the evening news as a serious, important person whose life must have been totally different from theirs, but Dr. Fauci’s life story makes it clear that he was once a curious kid, riding his bike and playing sports, just like the kids watching him on the news from home. Understanding that, I think, makes the work of science and public health feel more accessible for kids and helps them to see that this work belongs to all of us, and that they, too, can make contributions.    

What do you hope readers take away from this book? Is there anything you want them to feel or remember from Dr. Fauci’s story? 

Any time I write a book about scientists, my hope is that kids will see an open door – an invitation to wonder and become a part of that world. So I hope this book will inspire a lot of tomorrow’s scientists. And I also hope kids will understand that science is a process that involves asking lots of questions, making mistakes sometimes, and revising your ideas when new information becomes available. So many adults have a tough time with that concept, but without it, we really can’t make any progress in science at all.    

Which audience (whether age or population or demographic) do you especially hope finds this book and reads it? 

It’s created with elementary school readers in mind, and I hope it’s a title that will spark lots of connections for kids who love science themselves. (That said, I’ve already heard from quite a few people who have ordered copies for their moms and other relatives who appreciate Dr. Fauci’s work, and I think that’s great, too!)    

There is still, unfortunately, a lot of controversy around the pandemic and vaccinations. Did this influence your writing of the story in any way? 

Only in the sense that being aware of the misinformation that’s out there regarding vaccines made it feel even more important to share actual facts about how vaccines work in the book’s back matter. I certainly understand that there are people out there who aren’t fans of Dr. Fauci, and this isn’t a book for them. It’s a book for families who  understand and appreciate science, and for kids who are curious about epidemiology and public health.     

What’s coming next for you? 

History Smashers: The American Revolution comes out July 20, and then I have a busy fall release season on the way, with new books in several of my ongoing series. Over and Under the Canyon will be out from Chronicle Books on September 7th. I have two books coming October 5th – History Smashers: Plagues and Pandemics and Tracking Tortoises: The Mission to Save a Galápagos Giant. And in December, the next book in my Fergus and Zeke easy reader series will be out – Fergus and Zeke and the 100th Day of School.  

Thank you, Kate, for joining me, and I hope you’ll head to your nearest independent bookstore to grab a copy of Kate’s newest book about Dr. Fauci!

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