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Living Questions: Teaching Ideas for Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor

Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor

Written by Kate Messner, illustrated by Alexandra Bye 

Published by Simon and Schuster on June 29, 2021 

ISBN: 978-1665902434

Grades K-8 

Book Review 

For well over a year, across the United States and around the world, millions have been listening to Dr. Anthony Fauci’s evolving understanding of and guidance on COVID-19, delivered with his trademark calm and methodical manner of speaking. An American treasure to whom we owe so much, Dr. Fauci has devoted his professional life to public service.Thanks to author Kate Messner and illustrator Alexandra Bye, young people now have an opportunity to better understand Dr. Fauci and the science he studies. This chronological narrative grounds the reader in Dr. Fauci’s Catholic childhood in Brooklyn – playing stick ball, delivering prescriptions for his family drugstore, and determining a methodology for scoring points on the basketball court despite his short stature. All the while, through these anecdotes, Messner is building an understanding of Dr. Fauci’s inquisitive nature and modeling the scientific process of asking questions and gathering and evaluating evidence, without bogging readers down in the specifics of vaccine development. Illustrator Bye’s use of color shapes the reader’s experiences. Warm colors in shades of yellow and orange construct a visual representation of Dr. Fauci’s childhood and early years, while cool shades of blue take over as the book transitions to the COVID-19 pandemic. Extensive back matter reveals more information about Dr. Fauci’s life, photographs, and additional information on how vaccines work. Rich for thinking about the scientific process, the nature of inquiry, the people behind our public policy, and the nature of biographical writing with living subjects, Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor offers teachers, librarians, families, and the children in their care much to explore. 

Teaching Ideas and Invitations 

Note our Readers: These ideas are not meant to be prescriptive. Choose one. Choose more. It’s up to you. Some ideas are bigger and will take a number of days to complete. Some are shorter. You can also choose to complete one part of a teaching idea, but not the whole thing. It’s up to you! 

Grades K-2 

Reflecting on COVID-19. Read the fictional picture books Outside, Inside, written and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, and And the People Stayed Home, written by Kitty O’Meara and illustrated by Stefano Di Cristofaro and Paul Pereda. Both Outside, Inside and And the People Stayed Home describe the global experience of going indoors during the spring of 2020. Next, read Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor. Have students compare and contrast how the books together help them learn more about what the world experienced over the last fifteen months. Students may then want to explore some of the free books on COVID-19 curated by the New York City Public Schools Library System, available in multiple languages. After exploring these texts, have students create a mural that expresses their thinking about the last year. Ask your principal if you can use a hallway wall for the mural; if that is not possible, use a long roll of paper to cover the wall and create your mural. If you have some students who are remote, you can have them each send in a picture to add to the mural. If your entire class is remote, you can have students create unique art and send it to you in order to create a digital mural. 

Grades K-8

What Do Medical Doctors Do? Your students are likely familiar with pediatricians. Many of your students may see a pediatrician annually for wellness check-ups. But knowing that access to healthcare can be more difficult for historically marginalized communities and the economically disadvantaged, and that rural communities are having increasing difficulty in attracting doctors, your students may not have a close relationship with an M.D. It may be even more confusing for them to tease out the difference between medical doctors who practice medicine and medical doctors like Dr. Fauci, who conducts medical research that informs medical practice and public policy. Invite a group of local or regional doctors, some of whom practice medicine and some of whom conduct research to speak with your class either in-person or via video conference. If you don’t know where to start, reach out to the nearest university or hospital websites, where you might be able to locate people. Have your students develop questions and then sort and sequence their questions in advance of the visit. 

Asking Questions, Nurturing Curiosity. In the book, Messner writes that Dr. Fauci credits his family for nurturing his sense of curiosity. Who models curiosity for your students? Who do they turn to when they have questions about the world? Have students each make a list of questions they have about how the world works. To help students think broadly, list out the “wh” words that help initiate questions: what, which, when, where, who, whom, whose, why, whether and how.  Don’t limit the topics – let’s students write down what matters to them. It may help to do this as a free write over a period of several days, to see how students’ questions change and deepen the more they spend time thinking about them. Place students in small groups to compare and contrast their questions. Have them look for commonalities across their questions, and sort and group them accordingly. From there, have each group share out their grouping. Let students self-select into a group with a topic that best matches their interest. Have students brainstorm who and what resources can help them learn more about their topic. Support them in their inquiry and help them determine how they want to share their new learning with others. 

Surprise! You’re Thinking Scientifically! In the book, Messner shares the strategy that Dr. Fauci used to score points on the basketball court despite his short height. He knew that he could not jump high enough to beat out taller players, but he could run faster than them. He calculated mentally what he needed to do – to move faster across the court rather than to move higher in the air while near the basket. Have your students think through an activity that they think they do well. They could even record videos of themselves doing it, to watch themselves and identify and think through the strategies they use. What’s the science behind it? How might thinking scientifically help them be even more successful? Have students share out with one another. 

Duet Vaccine Exploration: Read Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor with your class. Have students discuss what they have learned about the scientific process through the book and how that matches with what they understand about the COVID-19 vaccine from their personal lives. Next, have students read The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine. What do they learn about the scientific process and the development of vaccines from both books? What role does collaboration play in both books? Have students name what they know and don’t know about what vaccines do and how they work. Have students next read the backmatter of Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor and then have them watch author Kate Messner’s interview with Dr. Fauci. What questions get answered? What new questions do they have? Invite a local medical doctor to video conference with your students to discuss their unanswered questions. 

COVID-19 Community Biographies. There’s only one Dr. Fauci, but across the globe, we’ve all experienced COVID-19 in our unique ways. Provide your students with the opportunity to write about the experiences of people in your community. Brainstorm with students the people they would like to interview. It could be members of the medical community or first responders, teachers in your school or employees of a local nursing home or assisted living center. It could be their neighbor or sibling. Help match students who need support in finding someone to interview. As a class, brainstorm general questions that everyone could ask. In small groups, have students brainstorm people-specific questions. From there, help students video conference with their subjects. They may ask their subjects to share photographs, as Dr. Fauci did with Kate Messner. As students write, have them use Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor as a mentor text. Have students consider how much they need to share about their subject’s early life before capturing a specific challenge they faced during COVID-19. Having students listen to our Classroom Bookshelf interview with Kate Messner might help with the process. * 

Grades 4 and Up

Researching Communicable Diseases. Use Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor as a launch for a discussion on communicable diseases and the medical research process. In the book, we learn that Dr. Fauci has researched a range of communicable diseases, such as: AIDS, West Nile Virus, SARS, Ebola, and COVID-19. Working with your school librarian, curate sets of books and digital texts (from subscription databases available to you through your school and public library systems) focused on the first four diseases. Some of the books below may be of use. Place students in disease-specific groups, where they conduct research using the text sets that you’ve curated. Have students compare and contrast the scientific process used to figure out how to fight the virus and prevent its spread with the process and timeframe for COVID-19. You might also want to have A Shot in the Arm! by Don Brown, a graphic work of informational fiction (published as nonfiction with a historic figure as narrator speaking to the reader) available as an accessible and informative way to learn more about the development of vaccines historically and the COVID-19 vaccine specifically. 

Grades 7 and Up 

Fighting AIDS. Read Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor as a launch for an exploration of the AIDS crisis in the United States that unfolded in the 1980s. Use the picture book to initiate a conversation about the scientific process, and as a scaffold to the more complex and developmentally appropriate Viral: The Fight Against AIDS in America by Anne Bausum. Work with a librarian to curate historic newspaper articles from the 1980s and 1990s via the subscription databases available to you through your school and public library systems. These articles can help further contextualize Bausum’s narrative. Be mindful that in all cases, students may be alarmed at some of the language used in the 1980s to talk about AIDS, people living with AIDS, and LGBTQIA+ people more generally. Have students consider the similarities and differences between COVID-19 and AIDS. What role did activism play in generating research for AIDS? What role did politics play behind the scenes and in front of the cameras in the context of both viruses?  How does students’ understanding of Dr. Fauci help to deepen their understanding of the fight against both diseases? Have students choose their own ways to respond to their learning. Emphasize that their own artistic responses are valued ways to commemorate the suffering and lives lost. Show The AIDS Quilt or some of the COVID-19 memorials as examples. As always, be mindful that for some students, particularly those who were sick or who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 or AIDS, this may be painful. 

Further Explorations 

Online Resources 

Kate Messner’s Official Website 

Kate Messner’s Interview with Dr. Fauci 

Alexandra Bye’s Official Website 

Educator’s Guide for Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor, written by Melissa Guerrette, M.Ed., NBCT

* Ideas here for methods of conducting interviews and writing biographies of community members were shaped by work first published in Language Arts (2019), and described here by author Melissa Stewart on her “Celebrate Science” blog. 

Timeline: A History of Vaccines, from the College of Physicians of Philadelphia 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Health (NIH) 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, NIH 

National AIDS Memorial

COVID Memorial 

“We were here. Why a memorial for COVID-19 victims can help us process our grief, and our anger, too,” VOX, March 24, 2021 


Within the backmatter of the book, Kate Messner has provided a list of books on diseases and vaccines for her readers to explore. 

Curated list of children’s and middle grade COVID-19 books coming out in 2021 from Travis Jonker at SLJ’s “100 Scopes Notes” blog. Not all books have been published yet. 

New York City School Library System LibGuide on Free COVID-19 Books from Around the World

Abramovitz, M. 2014. West Nile virus. (Diseases and Disorders series). Lucent Books. 

Bausum, A. 2019. Viral: The Fight Against AIDS in America. Viking Books for Young Readers. 

Brown, D. 2021. A shot in the arm! (Big Ideas that Changed the World series). Amulet Books. 

Brown, D. 2019. Fever year: The killer flu of 1918, a tragedy in three acts. Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt. 

Currie-McGhee, L.K. 2008. AIDS (Hot Topics series). Lucent Books. 

Giblin, J. C. 1995. When plague strikes: Black death, small pox, AIDS. Harper Collins.  

Hand, C. 2015. Epidemiology: The fight against ebola and other diseases. (History of Science series).  Essential Library, an imprint of Abdo Publishing. 

Jenner, E., Wilson, K., and Roberts, N. 2020. Coronavirus: A book for children. Ill. by A. Scheffler. Nosy Crow 

Marshall, L.E. 2020. The Polio pioneer: Jonas Salk and the Polio vaccine. Ill. by L. Anchin. Alfred Knopf Books for Young Readers. 

Newman, P. 2016.  Ebola: Fears and facts. Millbrook Press.

O’Meara, K. 2020. And the People Stayed Home. Ill. by S. Di Cristofaro and P. Pereda. Tra Publishing. 

Pham, L. 2021. Outside, inside. Macmillan Kids. 

Mary Ann Cappiello About Mary Ann Cappiello

Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.