How Poems Can Help Teach Young Learners About the Human Body

As a mother of young preschoolers, I know that it can be difficult to navigate certain topics when you are having a conversation.

There are a lot of topics (like health) that can seem like they would lead to challenging discussions if you’re not prepared accordingly.

This is why I always recommend finding a resource that not only works for you, but works for your kid too.

WebMD is a great resource for you, but how can you deliver this information to your child mindfully by sharing it in a way that they will understand?

The resource you choose ideally should be created by professionals in the specific topic you want to discuss.

For certain topics, it can be more challenging than others to find a resource that is created with young learners in mind.

For example, if you’re looking for a resource about health and bodies to help you teach your young learn, finding one that is written by a medical professional is ideal, but can be challenging.

When it came to having conversations about our bodies and our health with our kids, my husband and I found one of the best resources on the market to be a book of poems by Dr. Steven Clark Cunningham entitled Your Body Sick and Well: How Do You Know?

We think it is important to note that even though this book is great for reading to tots, who will love the vibrant illustrations and the rhythm and rhyme of the poems, older children (and even adults!) will appreciate the plays on words and the more in-depth content in the “Learn More!” sections and the glossaries.

Your Body Sick and Well: How Do You Know?

We found this book to be really helpful when it came to having hard conversations about health and body parts for many reasons.

I would compare the delivery of the information in this book to be very similar to children’s medicine.

Like the use of poetry to explain terrible things like cancer softens the impact of the information on delivery, so does the sweet flavouring commonly found in children’s medicine make it easier for the medicine to go down.

Cunningham’s way with words makes it easier to explain diabetes and leukemia to a young child.

He does not shy away from vocabulary, but rather finds a way to explain the meaning behind the words in a way that makes sense to young, developing brains.

Dr. Cunningham invented a word to describe his poetry: "poemenclature." He uses poetry to define and explain the names of things, hence the combination of the words "poem" and "nomenclature."

Dr. Cunningham invented a word to describe his poetry: “poemenclature.”

He uses poetry to define and explain the names of things, hence the combination of the words “poem” and “nomenclature.”

The poetry is written in such a way that it is intended to help young learners learn about and understand complicated health topics like different body parts and diseases.

For example, he writes a poem about kidneys that jokingly also refers to kid knees and squid knees, keeping the tone and content of the poem light and fun-hearted despite its content.

As he states in the book’s enlightening Preface, poetry can also help you see things in a different way than you would otherwise, which can be very helpful when dealing with hard and complicated subject matter.

The book itself is broken down into three parts and a glossary.

The three parts are:

Anatomy (Organ Names), which basically covers parts of the body

Illustration of child-friendly but accurate name of the body part (like "Bones" instead of "skeleton") in the book Your Body Sick and Well: How Do You Know?

Each part has one dedicated page in the book, highlighting the most child-friendly but accurate name of the body part (like “Bones” instead of “skeleton”).

Each page also contains a poem about that particular body part, each explaining the purpose, function, and actions that body part carries out.

Each page also features a “Learn More!” section packed with lots of information that you can use to answer any questions your child may have or just to teach them even more information.

The “Learn More!” section contains another image to further educate about that body part’s location and/or structure.

Considering each body part mentioned only has one page, that one page is jam-packed with helpful information for you and your child, but yet beautifully designed and not overpacked.

One thing to note about this section is that it doesn’t necessarily discuss all body parts, leaving out things like elbows, a chin, forehead, belly button, or ankle.

Rather, the body parts mentioned are more specifically organs that are mentioned later during the next section about pathology.

Pathology (Disease Names), which talks about different diseases, how they affect different parts of the body, and their symptoms

illustration of child with leukemia in the book Your Body Sick and Well: How Do You Know?

Like in the section before, here each disease has a page dedicated to it.

Each page contains name of the disease, its phonetic spelling (how to pronounce it) and the definitions of the words, prefixes, or suffixes in the disease name, which helps kids learn the essential skill of decoding new words.

The page also has a poem written about each disease specifically designed for young ears and brains.

This section about diseases and their names is super helpful when you need to have a conversation with your child about how things can go wrong with the human body.

Books like this can be helpful when having to talk about disease with your child, whether the disease is affecting them or other people in their lives.

Poetry is a great way to convey information that could otherwise come across as very blunt or harsh for a child.

Dr. Cunningham does a great job describing even the most difficult of diseases to discuss, like cancer (“Cancer keeps on growing when normal parts are slowing”).

Like the previous section, each page also contains a “Learn More!” section that consists of very accessible scientific information and images about the disease.

Instruments (Tool Names), which covers different medical equipment that your child or people they know may encounter


illustration of doctor using stethoscope in the book Your Body Sick and Well: How Do You Know?

The layout of this section is virtually identical to the previous part, except the subject matter here features equipment and processes like thermometers, anesthesia, and even chemotherapy.

Found at the end of the book, the glossary includes more information about medical terms and names of body parts, going into appropriately extensive detail about the topics Dr. Cunningham covers more lightly in his poems.

It serves as a great reference when you are using the poems to explain things like meningitis or insulin to a child and want more information.

This book of poems is a great resource for parents to use when they have to navigate difficult conversations about the body and disease with young children.

There isn’t a trace of condescension or sugarcoating in this book of poems.

Dr. Cunningham writes his poems in such a way that even the worst of diseases can be discussed openly, transparently, and meaningfully with young children even before kindergarten.

I highly recommend Your Body Sick and Well: How Do You Know? the next time you need to have a conversation about health and the body with your young child.

And what’s more – Dr. Cunningham is donating author proceeds to charities benefiting children’s health and well-being!

Released in January 2020 from Three Conditions Press, this playful second book by Dr. Steven Clark Cunningham won 1st Place in the 26th Annual CIPA EVVY Awards Contest, sponsored by the Colorado Independent Publishers Association and also received the Gold Medal in the 14th Annual Moonbeam Award. It was also a Finalist in the 14th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards.

The book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and many others.

Steven Clark Cunningham – Author

Dr. Steven Clark Cunningham author of the book Your Body Sick and Well: How Do You Know?

Dr. Steven Clark Cunningham attended medical school at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Having finished his residency in general surgery at the University of Maryland and a fellowship in surgery of the liver and pancreas at Johns Hopkins University, he currently works as Director of Pancreatic and Hepatobiliary Surgery and Director of Research at Saint Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, MD. He has also served as a contributing editor of Maryland Poetry Review and his poems have appeared in that journal. In addition, his work won the literary arts contest sponsored by the magazine The New Physician. His poems have also appeared in Chimeras, WordHouse Baltimore’s Literary Calendar, and in the anthologies Function at the Junction #2, Pasta Poetics, and Poems for Chromosomes. His first full-length book of children’s poetry, Dinosaur Name Poems (Three Conditions Press, 2009) won the 2009 Moonbeam Award in both the Children’s Poetry and the Spanish Language categories. According to the author, Your Body Sick and Well: How Do You Know? is a continuation of his mission to make science fun for kids!  Dr. Cunningham can reached through his website,






Susan Detwiler – Illustrator

susan detwiler illustrator for the book Your Body Sick and Well: How Do You Know?Susan Detwiler has illustrated several award-winning books for children, including After a While Crocodile, her sixth title for Arbordale Publishing. She is the author/illustrator of Fine Life For A Country Mouse, a picture book published by Penguin Random House in 2014. Her illustrations have appeared in the children’s magazines, Highlights for Children and Ladybug and her artwork has been used for puzzles, games, and greeting cards. Susan was educated at the Maryland Institute College of Art and she and her artist husband live in Baltimore. She is a volunteer member of the MD/DE/WV chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.

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