We’d like to introduce you to Masha’s Latest picture book “A Garden in Your Belly: Meet the Microbes in Your Gut” through our author Q&A!
Can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Growing up, my family moved a lot and in different configurations (I’m talking neighborhoods first and continents later). Staying in touch with friends and family in those pre-social media days was everything. One of my favorite things to do was to send drawings of things I observed or ideas I had along with my letters. This led me to make illustrations and put together stories and that’s what I still do!
What was your inspiration for this book?
Me, as the little girl suffering from severe food allergies, anxiety and stomach aches. That kid could really use some ideas on regulating her well-being all those years ago. Also, since childhood I’ve been into miniatures and the idea of worlds within worlds. Our planet is part of a vast cosmos. We’re all part of this earth. We, in turn, have worlds within us. Similarly, a microbe has a world inside itself, as does each cell. I love that we can go smaller and smaller in the style of the Russian doll “Matryoshka.”
Is this book fact or fiction?
It’s art based on science. I always had an interest in nerdy things I could hardly unravel, probably because I’m a child of a scientist (who loves to paint) and an artist (who loves studying nature).
Where did the visual world come from?
It’s a huge challenge to depict a mind-blowing universe, even if microbial. My approach was to tap into the beginner’s mind, to forget the visuals typical of this subject matter. I let my imagination run so that the young reader could picture their own biology in a fun, non-clinical way. But some art history inspiration is definitely peeking through the illustrations. Can you see it?
What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
Hopefully, the book will engage the reader with fun details and visual surprises long enough to encourage good habits in kids and their adults!
Please briefly describe the theme of your book and its scope.
The human microbiome is not only a fascinating world of its own, it’s vitally important to every aspect of our lives. You are what you eat, after all.
Please summarize your book.
A Garden In Your Belly takes an imaginative look into the wondrous relationship between our bodies and the trillions of organisms we host, the microbes we call the microbiota. These tiny creatures play a huge role in whether we are sick or healthy, fit or sluggish, sunny or moody. Young readers can picture the mind-blowing microbial world inside as a journey through an adventure-filled landscape and learn some amazing science in an actionable, user-friendly way. Every kid can get excited about nourishing their tiny inner helpers or “pets” that play such an important role in their well-being. The well-nourished microbiome will in turn offer them protection from unwanted invaders and pathogens like viruses. The interconnectivity of our lifestyle and our health has become more apparent than ever. This book aims to present its importance and beauty in a fun, engaging way. The microbiome has always been with us, coevolving with humans and entwining its functions with ours. Might as well face it and make friends!
Was there anything else that inspired this book?
I’ve had health struggles since childhood and started looking into wellness and biohacking in earnest a few years ago. There’s hardly a scientific discussion about health lately without mentioning the fascinating (and only partially-explored) microbiome. The fact that we all exist as composite organisms is endlessly enchanting to me. It leads to so much potential for increased curiosity, empathy and imagination – precisely the kinds of things kids are most open to.
Why will people want to read your book? What developments, trends, and issues reflect this need? What kinds of problems does your work address and what solutions does it offer?
Wellness has become a mainstream trend, yet the state of global health is generally declining. Long before the emergence of Covid-19, nutritional experts had agreed that the modern lifestyle is harmful to our inner gardens in many ways. Our gut bacteria is being decimated by processed foods, lack of physical activity, environmental pollution and gut-harming medications. Yet this message has far to go still. Too many kids are growing up surrounded by unhealthy food, bombarded with the idea that addictive sugary treats are something rewarding to covet.
I wish I knew the importance of nutrition and how to regulate my physiological and psychological well-being as a kid. It would’ve saved me so much unnecessary angst and possibly illness. Because 80 – 90% of our immune cells reside in our gut, everything that happens there influences what goes on with our health. Our first line of defense against viral infection (Covid-19 for example) is our respiratory mucosa. Its state is directly influenced by the state of the gut.
Simply put, a healthy gut equals less disease and that extends beyond the physical. We have a chance to gift this important knowledge to the next generation, and it doesn’t have to be scary, dull, preachy or off-putting.
Who do you see as the primary audience for the book?
Anyone who eats.
Who might have a secondary interest in the book?
Parents. Anyone interested in wellness.
What do you hope readers will learn or discover from reading your book?
Healthy fascination with the mighty microbiome. The interconnectivity of our lifestyle and our health. This has become more critical than ever as the world suffers through the effects of a pandemic.
The microbiome is infinitely malleable. It’s never too early or too late to make friends with it.