STEM Tuesday– Checking Your Health — Writing Craft and Resources

Heath is an absolutely fascinating subject. Health-related media surrounds our daily life. The reasons are fairly simple as health affects everyone and is something everyone can relate to. Children’s literature is no exception. Health-related topics make great kid lit!

Microbes are my jam. Bacteria, viruses, parasites, microbiomes are things that attract my attention every time. I caught the fever in college. As strictly a cell biology student, I wandered down the hall one semester to take an elective from the microbiology section. I liked it and took another. Then another. Pretty soon my cell biology emphasis was a thing of the past and I switched lanes into the world of microbiology. Viruses especially grabbed me. The simplicity of their construction. The intricate ways they infect and replicate inside of the host cell. It was the perfect marriage of cell biology and infectious agent. Fast forward thirty years to my day job as a research microbiologist. The group I work with studies the interaction of pathogens with the host cell. Our primary focus is how bacteria intricately switch on and off the host inflammatory defensive response to their survival advantage. It’s a fascinating story to observe how pathogens go about affecting health. 

Microbes make great STEM health topics. Look back at our book list for this month. Microbe heavy! Today we are going to take a look at how health fits into the craft of STEM literature and some resources to learn or stay informed about health topics.



Health fits into just about any type of nonfiction. Using Melissa Stewart’s fantastic nonfiction book family tree, try to think of health-related middle grade or middle reader books you can put into each category. If you really want to burst my TBR budget, add your list of books in the comment section below.

  • Traditional
  • Browseable
  • Active
  • Expository
  • Narrative

When writing health nonfiction for middle grade, the key is in the details and how to best use them.

  • Is the topic better suited as a straight up informative text?
  • Do the details and the facts lend themselves to a narrative structure? What’s their story?
  • Is the topic loaded with activities which help illustrate and teach the information?
  • Is the topic wide-ranging enough to allow for many separate facts to be included?

Allow the facts to help dictate what the best way to tell a health-related STEM nonfiction story.  But where can one find the facts and details about a topic which interests them? That’s where the research comes in, right? Where do you start research? By finding solid resources.


Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)

Back in those college days, my virology and pathogenic microbiology professor had a standing assignment due every Friday. We had to turn in a summary of at least two articles in the latest MMWR bulletin from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). We’d race over to the library to check the shelf to see if the latest version of the pamphlet arrived yet. What’s MMWR, you say? The Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report. With online access now in the digital age, it’s a weekly update from the CDC on what’s making Americans sick or causing death.

World Health Organization

World Health Organization (WHO) has a great website to find information, resources and exceptional commentary on world health. It’s always good to keep a healthy eye on what’s going on around the world. In a global economy, where one can travel great distances in short amounts of time, health issues halfway around the world can still be threats.

National Institutes of Health 

The NIH is a slice of science and health nerd heaven. The grants, the news, the health reports, the grant funding, the databases for researchers, etc. It’s nearly impossible to write in one STEM Tuesday blog post about all the information on the NIH website. I use PubMed and GenBank at least twice a week at my job. (Confession. I sometimes get sucked down the PubMed rabbit hole while searching for research papers; like the time my labmates and I spent half a day talking about a medical pathology journal paper titled, Death by Greyhound.)


There are all kinds of newsletters one can search for to provide information on health and health issues.

Johns Hopkins Health & Wellness Newsletter

The Biotechniques daily news updates are one of my favorites daily email newsletters. The email updates cover interesting molecular science in a variety of disciplines from around the world. Plus, their Biotechniques journal is free!

Death Toll Comparison Breakdown

I ran across this Death Toll Comparison Breakdown post from Tim Urban’s Wait But Why blog that is possibly the most informative graphic ever about health and comparative death tolls of various historical events. 

Nothing to fear but fear itself…

Heath can also be used to invoke fear and create a culture of fear. Think about conversations going on right now in our society:

  • Exercise and weight loss
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Vaccines
  • Cancer
  • Emerging pathogens – Ebola, Zika, Bird Flu

The more science we know behind our health problems and issues, the better we can analyze, identify, and reduce the fear factor associated with the health issues. Information fights fear. Observe, verify, and then pass information on. Once we get past the fear, we can focus on solutions to those health issues. 

Check your health!

Health is one of those common concerns for humanity. It affects so much of our lives. It’s a good idea to learn as much as possible about the way our bodies work and how they interact with our nature and environments. STEM nonfiction can be a powerful tool in developing this understanding. Health concerns can be scary. Knowledge can overcome this fear which can lead to overcoming the health concern. Knowledge is power within the health realm. 

Improve your health and go check out some STEM health titles. Or write some health-related nonfiction books on whatever fascinates you. There’s something out there for every taste—even for that someone who is interested in studying how we taste!

Mike Hays, Microbiologist III


The O.O.L.F Files

The Out Of Left Field files this month focus on the….

I’m hacking the O.O.L.F. File this month for a little self-promo. But it’s self-promo with a purpose. Me and 38 science friends have joined Dan Koboldt in an information-packed book from Writer’s Digest Books called, PUTTING THE SCIENCE IN FICTION. The release date is set for October 16, 2018.

It’s an awesome resource for writers and educators with experts explaining the nuts and bolts of science topics, including health. There’s also an introduction written by Chuck Wendig. (Yeah, that Chuck Wendig!)

Here’s a look at the section titles in PUTTING THE SCIENCE IN FICTION:

  • Research Labs, Hospitals, And Really Bad Ways To Die
  • Genome Engineering: It Never Ends Well
  • The Brain Is Wider Than The Sky
  • From Zero To Sixty (Legs, That Is)
  • Things To Know For When Skynet Takes Over
  • Earth And Other Planets. Yes, Pluto Counts!
  • Sometimes, It Really Is Rocket Science
  • Star Wars And The Far Future

My two contributions to the anthology are “The Science of Jurassic Park” and “Zombie Microbiology 101”.

You can also check out Dan’s Science In SciFi, Fact in Fantasy blog series for even more awesome science content from real-life experts. The blog is a great place to learn something new or to learn science for your writing.




STEM Tuesday — Checking Your Health– In the Classroom

Once again, the STEM Tuesday Team put together a powerhouse book list for this month’s theme: CHECKING YOUR HEALTH.  You can access that book list quickly and easily right HERE.

As always, on Week Two, we’re going to take a few books from the list and talk about classroom application. Upper elementary, middle school, home school, summer school – we’ve got activities for you!

Lights, Camera, Action

Human Body Theater

Use Maris Wicks’s fascinating book Human Body Theater, a Nonfiction Revue to put on a show! The book, which is in graphic/comic strip format (can we say graphic novel for nonfiction? Hmm….) is divided into Acts One through Eleven, with each act explaining one of our bodies’ systems. Students might work in groups, choosing a system and writing a script for a whole-body performance. A ticket to the Human Body Theater might be just be the hottest ticket in town!





Then and Now

Bubonic Panic Cover

Using Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America by Gail Jarrow and Ebola: Fears and Facts by Patricia Newman, compare the effects of two devastating illnesses that hit the world at two very different times. What challenges do scientists and medical professionals face today that are similar to those faced years ago? What advances have made research and treatment easier? What still needs to happen in order to prevent an epidemic from ever occurring again?


Biology Biography Bash

murphy_breakthrough        reef_florence nightingale

Many classrooms hold Biography Bashes or Living History events or otherwise showcase people from history who’ve had an impact on the way we live. Consider hosting a biography event centered around historical figures who have made a difference in the fields of health and medicine.  This month’s book list contains two fantastic examples: Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life the Legendary Nurse by Catherine Reef and Breakthrough! How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever by Jim Murphy.

And, don’t forget fiction!

Here at The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors, the STEM Tuesday team loves to highlight great middle-grade fiction with our nonfiction topics.  In Chasing Secrets: A Deadly Surprise in a City of Lies, Gennifer Choldenko’s fictional characters must try to understand a mysterious illness. She sets the story against the very real backdrop that was San Francisco in 1900. I was hooked in chapter one, when the main character says “I know I shouldn’t say things like this. Aunt Hortense says I try hard to be peculiar. But she’s wrong; I come by it quite naturally.”

So, here’s a challenge for the comment section below: Add a middle-grade fiction title that explores a health or medical issue. Contemporary or historical, realistic or science fiction. Can you come up with one to share?

Michelle Houts created today’s STEM Tuesday post. She’s the author of several fiction and nonfiction books for kids, including the STEM-based Lucy’s Lab Chapter Book Series from Sky Horse Publishing/Sky Pony Press. After reading about bubonic plague, tuberculosis, ebola, and other deadly diseases for today’s post, she is now going to go wash her hands. Again. 

STEM Tuesday– Checking Your Health — Book List

History is filled with interesting tales of mysterious illnesses. These books feature the stories of the science and discovery behind medical mysteries and also some new medical threats facing the world today. These books intrigue readers who love mysteries, science, and healthcare.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America by Gail Jarrow

Many think of the plague as a disease that killed many people in Europe, but it also came to America. A man died of the bubonic plague in America in 1900. This book tells the story of America’s first plague epidemic. Pair this book with the historical novel Chasing Secrets: A Deadly Surprise in a City of Lies by Newbery Medalist Gennifer Choldenko, a medical mystery abut the plague.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Pandemic: How Climate, the Environment, and Superbugs Increase the Risk by Connie Goldsmith

Goldsmith’s new title shows the links between climate, the environment, and disease. Are we creating unnecessary risk with unsustainable environmental practices? A timely and important look at the possibility of a world-wide health crisis.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Ebola: Fears and Facts by Patricia Newman

From 1975 to 2013 this deadly disease killed about 1,500 people. If that wasn’t bad enough the numbers jumped to six times that number in 2014. Read about this disease and the heroic people who helped stop its spread. Particularly relevant in the wake of the newest outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Science Comics Series — Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield by Falynn Koch and The Brain: Ultimate Thinking Machine by Tory Woolcott and Alex Graudins

This graphic novel/comic series is perfect for reluctant readers and budding scientists. These titles contain a fictional premise wrapped around scientific facts.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat by Gail Jarrow

Readers will discover a little known epidemic that struck the United States in the early 20th century and how preventative measures changed the way we eat. Includes 100 archival photos, scientific investigations, and the real-life stories of victims of this mysterious illness.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks

This fun, informative graphic novel about the human body is perfect for young biology students. A master of ceremonies leads readers through a theatrical revue of each system within the body. Clever!



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse by Catherine Reef

This biography tells the story of a compassionate, remarkable nurse, whose modern methods of nursing became the standards of today. Did you know she also defied the Victorian mores of her time?



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Support Independent Bookstores - Visit American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy

This award-winning title invites readers to discover the epidemic that spread through Philadelphia.  Pair it with Laurie Halse Anderson’s historical fiction Fever 1793.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never Ending Search for a Cure by Jim Murphy and Alison Blank, plus Breakthrough: How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever by Jim Murphy  

These two titles give readers a look into how dedicated doctors and scientists have impacted life for millions of people.


STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by:

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including her 2016 title, THE STORY OF SEEDS: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less To Eat Around The World, which earned the Green Earth Book Award and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia. She enjoys sharing her adventures, research, and writing tips. She strives to inform, inspire, and educate her readers. Nancy also serves as the Regional Advisor of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2018 title is BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction.

Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that inspires kids to seek connections between science, literacy, and the environment. The recipient of  a Sibert Honor Award for Sea Otter Heroes and the Green Earth Book Award for Plastic, Ahoy!, her books have received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. During author visits, she demonstrates how her writing skills give a voice to our beleaguered environment. Visit her at