For many young children, visits to the doctor can inspire feelings of fear and confusion. These feelings are coupled with the fact that many conversations at the pediatrician’s office leave out children, as they are between doctor and parent, rather than doctor and patient.
This problem — frequently present within pediatric patient care — is one that TuftssophomoreLema Abuoqab is attempting to solve. Her solution is interdisciplinary, a combination of both STEM and the arts: science books for children.
Abuoqab’s desire to create children's science books is derived from her multitude of interests. She is a pre-med student majoring in biology and minoring in biotechnology, but at the same time, she possesses a passion for writing and art. Now, in addition to academics, she is a published author and the founder ofLema Art & Writing LLC.
Her first book is titled “Eric’s Brain Elementary.” It aims to explain the inner workings of the brain to young children in a way that is fun, engaging and doesn’t water down the science. Through this book, and the books she plans to write in the future, Abuoqab hopes to bring children into the conversations that surround their own health.
“Helping kids prioritize their health and realize that they can be active participants in their health is super important,”Abuoqab said.
Her book began as a high school psychology project, crafted quickly out of construction paper. Abuoqab had been tasked with writing a book that could explain the different parts of the brain to a kindergarten classroom.
Abuoqab, who hopes to work in pediatric medicine one day, noticed some of the ways that pediatric care needed to change and her attention shifted back to that high school project.
“Pediatric medicine really needs ... a change in the way that we educate patients, and I kind of picked up on a lot of different things through my volunteering at Tufts Children's Hospital [and] volunteering back home in Florida, or through all the shadowing I did at pediatric offices. And so I decided to pull this project up again,”Abuoqab said.
Abuoqab revisited the project while taking a children’s literature course at Tufts with Cynthia Smith, a lecturer in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development in spring 2021. The pre-med student rewrote the entire book, working on it well into the summer.
By the end of the season, Abuoqab had transformed her high school project into a full-fledged children's picture book — “Eric’s Brain Elementary.” Now, her book is available for purchase on her publisher's website,BookBaby, and for presale on Barnes and Noble. She is already working on her second book.
Abuoqab explained that she hopes the book will allow young children to become involved in their own health care. She pointed out the significant difference between the treatment of adults and children in a doctor-patient setting.
“When it comes to ... adult medicine, usually it's just the physician interacting with the patient. But then when you have pediatric medicine, it turns into a party of three people where you have the doctor, the patient and then the parent,”Abuoqab said. “And a lot of the times the kids get lost in conversation and it turns into just a conversation between the [parent] and the doctor. So I think if we start to provide more resources for kids to become more engaged in their learning experience, it'll be super beneficial.”
“Eric’s Brain Elementary” introduces children to the science that underlies the human brain. The main character, Eric, falls asleep in class, and is suddenly greeted by the various parts of the brain. Each part is drawn as a colorful character. The prefrontal cortex, for example, is named Phoebe, and the pons is named Pablo.
“All the different parts of the brain [take Eric] on a little adventure throughout his brain,”Abuoqab said. “Each character was intentionally color-coded because at the end of the story … each character has a matching color to their respective region on a real diagram of the brain.”
At the end of the book, Abuoqab includes a glossary that explains the function of each part of the brain and its phonetic spelling, so that kids may easily pronounce them.
Each of the drawings throughout the book was illustrated by Abuoqab, who has always enjoyed artistic pursuits.
“I've always been super into art, but I was always into more realistic drawings … learning how to do cartoons and stuff was really challenging, but I feel comfortable with it now and I absolutely love doing it,”Abuoqab said.
The medium she used to craft the book’s images were inspired by many of the children’s books that are found throughout her family’s home. Abuoqab is the oldest of four children, which has had a heavy influence on her book’s development.
“When I was writing it, I was like, ‘Oh, is this something that my siblings would want to read? Is this something that they [would] laugh at?’ So that really helped,”Abuoqab said.
One of Abuoqab's siblings also guided the creation of another one of her recent works of children’s literature. Her sister was recently diagnosed with scoliosis and was upset about wearing her back brace. Abuoqab decided to write a short story called “Embrace Your Brace,” which she wrote after her sister’s doctor told her to “Rock your brace.”
“With all my shadowing, I saw that a lot of the times there are kids who kind of just resist wearing their brace … the whole point of having a brace when you have scoliosis is to prevent your curve from getting worse so that you don't have to get corrective surgery. There were so many patients that just didn't want to wear their brace [and] their curve eventually got worse enough where the only option that was left was to have surgery,”Abuoqab said. “So I wanted to write this little book called ‘Embrace Your Brace’ … to show kids that it is possible [to] enjoy the things they love, even while having to wear a brace.”
“Embrace Your Brace” has been distributed throughout different orthopedic offices, furthering the intersection between Abuoqab’s interests in both literature and medicine.
“I guess that's another way that I've just been finding ways to incorporate my writing into patient care,”Abuoqab said.
Moving forward, Abuoqab hopes to write more books, and she is already planning on working on a children’s book about the digestive system. She hopes to further engage with her passion for writing, while also pursuing a future career in orthopedic surgery.
Abuoqab outlined the direction she hopes her literature will take in the future.
“In the long run, I would love to be able to start making these [books] specific to medical conditions and not necessarily just different systems in our body,”Abuoqab said. “Whether it's for orthopedic patients or for general surgery, [the books would be] talking about different conditions and the way that kids can become more involved in their treatment process.”