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Stanford physician pens children’s book on breathing

After noticing that young patients know little about their bodies, Stanford physician Diana Farid wrote a children's book explaining how our lungs work.

Early in her career as a family physician, Diana Farid, MD, a Stanford assistant professor of medicine, noticed that many of her elementary-school-aged patients knew little about how their bodies worked.

She began telling them stories to describe what was going on: "If I was taking blood pressure, I would explain that the heart was pushing blood against the blood vessels and we were feeling that push," she said. "If I had an asthma patient and we were talking about lungs, I would describe them as an upside-down tree."

Eventually, her description of the pulmonary system evolved into a picture book, When You Breathe, published this month by Cameron Kids, a division of Abrams.

Poetic testament to the respiratory system

Illustrated by Billy Renkl, a professor at Austin Peay State University, the 32-page book features a girl about to sing a song and describes how air travels into her lungs then out again. It also contains a glossary of words such as atoms ("small pieces of the world around us") and heart ("a hollow muscle in the middle of the chest that pumps blood").

"It's a poetic testament to the wonder of our respiratory system," Farid said.

Diana Farid, MD, assistant professor of medicine

Farid wrote the first draft 10 years ago, revised it many times and found a publisher in 2018. That it's being published during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when a respiratory illness is on everyone's mind, makes it perhaps more meaningful.

"I don't think there's ever been so much consciousness around breath and breathing," Farid said. "This is an opportunity to demonstrate to children the fact that we all share the air and that breath enlivens us."

Other books to come

Farid has produced feature-length documentary films and is a published poet, but this is her first book. She hopes it will become the first in a children's series about human biology, including vision, sleep and the cardiovascular system.

"Children under the age of 10 really don't get a lot of exposure to human biology concepts," she said, adding that her own children would learn about snails and other animals, but little about the human body. "I wrote this book partly because I felt like that was missing in their education."

Farid, who now cares for students at Stanford's Vaden Health Center, is also working on a middle-grade novel, written in verse.

"I feel the same way about poetry as I do about science: They are both a form of exploring truth in the how and why of our lives," she said.

Books Inc. is holding a virtual launch party at 5 p.m., Oct. 9. The event is open to everyone, but registration is required.

Illustration by Billy Renkl from the book When You Breathe. Photo of Farid by John Leppert.

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