• Frederike Schmitz

Thinking about writing a children’s book on immune cells for years, but how to start?



For years now- no kidding- I have been thinking about writing a children’s book about the immune system.

I don’t know about you, but I hear that very often, that people have this big idea that they carry along for years. Some start to make it a reality, some never will.


But what gives you the final push to actually do it? And then once you start you realize how huge the endeavor is that you started and still have in front of you.

How do you react then?

To have a big project like writing a book for the first time can be so daunting, that I experienced doubt and wanted to quit very often- and still do sometimes.

But how do you even start? And once you write something, how do you know if it’s good? And then how do you get a book published?


At one point in time I realized that I needed to write down about all this work, the work behind the scenes, so to speak before it slips out of my memory. Because I learned so much about stories, about myself and my expectations. And I’m still far away from publishing an actual book.


This is how this blog came to be.

I will publish a blog every week on Thursdays now for the next coming weeks and months.

Here I will write about my thoughts, feelings, progress and failures of this massive personal project of mine.


But how did it really start? How did this thought of writing a book sneak into my consciousness or subconsciousness? And more so, a book about immune cells, for kids?


I have studied the immune system for many years now. I started with immunology, the study of the immune system, during my master’s and then went on to do a PhD and later worked as a researcher in a lab in the US.

For me immunology was always relatively easy to learn because I envisioned the cells to be individuals. Not necessary people, but beings of their own.

They lived in their own weird world that was often alien from our world. They would do certain things, go to places, they would meet up and talk to each other about things they have seen– it was one big story for me.


To explain these stories to fellow students I drew large posters of the place where immune cells like to meet: the lymph nodes. Scattered all over your body, these knots where lymph tunnels intersect are perfectly located for a vivid exchange of information between cells. I envisioned these places to be a sort of bar or house where they would all get together and chat to each other in order to stay up to date and who knows maybe have some fun as well.


For friends and family, who knew little to nothing about immunology it was perceived as very complex. I felt that often this perceived complexity lead people to assume that it was not worth studying, let alone worth trying to understand.


This is a real miss. So much in your life has to do with your immune system. Think about all the infections you undergo in your lifetime; or the numerous immune diseases there are, like Arthritis, Celiac Disease (two examples of autoimmune-like diseases) or cancer. In recent years it has also become clear that the tons and tons of microbes living (primarily) in our intestines greatly influence our immune system- so much even that certain neurological disorders could be linked to it.


I guess I was convinced about how important it is to study the immune system and always wanted to explain it to friends, family and anybody who would want to know.

My schematic drawings were pretty OK for the time being, but I wanted to tell more people about the magical world of immune cells. Many more.


And you know what? Stories are a perfect way to tell people about complex things.

The easier you can make these stories, the more you can figure out the essence of what you think people should know and take away from them, the better.


A hilarious show for kids which shows the basics of how the immune cells operate in a light and entertaining way is the 'Let's Go Live with Maddie & Greg' YouTube show about the immune system.


What really impressed me, is the use of everyday analogies Maddie and Greg chose in their show. Like this one.

Imagine your body is a house and the virus wants to get inside. It can do that through an open window (say you cut yourself and now have a wound) or it can simply choose the main door. The main door? Well, your nose. What does the virus encounter in your nose? Lots of slime. If you have sticky slime in your nose it might get caught right there. Now, use a tissue, blow your nose and whoops.. the virus is outside again.

In their show they have a scene where they themselves dress up as a virus and an immune cell. Now virus gregorius (you get- it's Greg) wants to enter the house through the door and is stopped by Maddie the immune cell.


Thinking back to the immune story, I envisioned, I struggle a bit with making the story more relatable to everyday life. Like they did so brilliantly in their show. Maybe I needed to write a bit more about how you can feel your immune cells in action? Say you get a snotty nose, cough and have fever. How does this work? What do your immune cells start these symptoms?


What I also enjoyed with Maddie & Greg's show is the demonstration of interactive games using clay to show kids how viruses are build. If you are -by chance- looking for more fun kids games around immunology check out the British Society for Immunology website. They have lots of great resource for do-it yourself stuff around immunology you can do with kids, like this instruction on how to model pathogens & antibodies with plasticine.


Have you ever tried to write about something complex (like science) for children? How did that go? What did you learn?


I think the brilliant thing about writing on complex topics like science for children is, that you can be pretty certain that adults- maybe their parents and the ones who accidentally stumble upon them- understand this too.


"If you decide to break into the kids’ market, your stories might end up being the clearest, most vivid writing you ever do." This quote is from a fantastic science writing post and sums it up very nicely. It is full of tips and resources.


Maybe you've already read some science stories for kids? What do you think was done well and what was not? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.


Photo credit: Green Chameleon, Unsplash

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