In partnership with a French organization, Fondation Ipsen, Mayo Clinic Press in Rochester, Minn., has launched its first line of children’s books exploring physical, mental, and emotional health topics. The books are intended to help children better understand illness and recovery, as well as maintain a better handle on life’s challenges.

The line debuted in October with the release of the first two volumes in the My Life Beyond series of 36-page graphic novels for middle grade readers: My Life Beyond Bullying, inspired by Ralph M, and My Life Beyond Leukemia, inspired by Rae Burremo. Both books are written and illustrated by Guillaume Federighi, who is professionally known as Hey Gee. A third volume, My Life Beyond Autism, inspired by C. Ano will be published in March 2022. Other 2022 releases include My Life Beyond Vaccines, My Life Beyond Diabetes, and My Life Beyond Neurofibromatosis, a rare condition that causes non-cancerous tumors to form in the brain, spinal cord, and nerves.

The books are published in print format; Mayo Clinic Press releases are distributed by Simon & Schuster.

While the books in the My Life Beyond series are fiction, the stories are based upon the real-life experiences of Mayo Clinic patients. The books have been developed and will continue to be developed through ongoing collaborations between the patients, Mayo Clinic physicians, Fondation Ipsen, and Federighi.

The concept originated with the Fondation Ipsen, whose president is Dr. James Levine, a former Mayo Clinic physician. It is dedicated to making accurate scientific information accessible to the general public. In 2018 it launched Booklab—books and magazines that are produced and published in several languages, the result of collaborations between scientists, doctors, artists, authors, and children. The books are produced in both print and digital formats and distributed in more than 50 countries—free of charge to schools, libraries, “and people living in precarious situations.”

The concept was brought to the attention of Mayo Clinic Press by Dr. Fredric Meyer, “one of the doctors in leadership at Mayo on the education side of what we do,” said Nina Wiener, editor-in-chief of Mayo Clinic Press. “Dr. Levine and Dr. Meyer got together and said, ‘Why don’t we try this collaboration in the United States?’ ” The two physicians select the topics to be addressed in the My Life Beyond series.

“We’re excited to have these books out there,” Wiener said. “We’re using them as an experiment to test the waters and see what the reaction is with the trade, librarians, and teachers.”

Noting that the children’s book market is highly competitive, Wiener is confident that the press “can carve out a space,” as the content of its releases is supplemented by Mayo Clinic’s sterling reputation. “There are a lot of books,” she said, “but there is no one trusted authority to come to for children’s health and wellness information. We hope to grow into being that authority; we have the full support and cooperation of the division in the Mayo Clinic’s Children’s Center that oversees the children’s hospital and also the day-to-day pediatric process.”

Mayo Clinic physicians see about 160,000 patients each year who are children.

Wiener, who joined the press in February, said that it is beefing up its output in both children’s and adult books. After publishing nine books this year, output will increase to 20 releases in 2022. “By 2030, we intend to publish approximately 80 books per year,” Wiener said. “A big chunk of that is going to be children’s.”

Wiener is in the final stages of interviewing job candidates for the new position of editorial director of the children’s publishing program to develop the list. “We hope that she—all the remaining candidates are women—will be off to the races starting in January, building out a really robust plan for us,” Wiener said. The press also intends to hire a children’s book marketing specialist.

Even before the new children’s editorial director comes on board, Wiener is promising that the press is going to neither limit itself to physical books, digital books, and audiobooks for the children’s market, nor will it limit itself to middle grade readers. “We’re planning to start with board books and go up through young adult,” she said, “And we’re also planning to develop podcasts. We are looking beyond traditional publishing to reach kids where they are.”

The entire press, which officially launched in 2019 (although Mayo Clinic has been publishing books since 1983), is moving in the direction, Wiener noted, of publishing more books by authors who work outside of the Mayo Clinic. “We want to have a broad cultural conversation around health and medicine,” she said. “Plans were in the works to do this even before Covid, but the level of interest in all things health has exploded. People are trying to take control in managing their own health and wellness. We’re getting into the culture of medicine, the future of medicine.”

Hey Gee is the author and illustrator of the books in the My Life Beyond series; the books are inspired by specific Mayo Clinic patients. This story has been corrected to reflect this.