Counting the Stars: The Story of Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician

Counting the Stars: The Story of Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician

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Overview

“A detail-rich picture book.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Straightforward and inviting.” —School Library Journal

From award-winning author Lesa Cline-Ransome and acclaimed illustrator Raúl Colón comes the sensitive, informative, and inspiring picture book biography of the remarkable mathematician Katherine Johnson, one of the NASA “human computers” whose work was critical to the first US space launch.

Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or astronauts walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used their knowledge, pencils, adding machines, and writing paper to calculate the orbital mechanics needed to launch spacecraft. Katherine Johnson was one of these mathematicians who used trajectories and complex equations to chart the space program. Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws were in place in the early 1950s, Katherine worked analyzing data at the NACA (later NASA) Langley laboratory.

In 1962, as NASA prepared for the orbital mission of John Glenn, Katherine Johnson was called upon and John Glenn said “get the girl” (Katherine Johnson) to run the numbers by hand to chart the complexity of the orbital flight. He knew that his flight couldn’t work without her unique skills.

President Barack Obama awarded Katherine Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 and her incredible life inspired the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures. Get to know this incredible and inspirational woman with this beautifully illustrated picture book from an award-winning duo.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Marjorie Ingall

With luminous watercolor, colored pencils, lithograph crayon and a scratch tool to create grooves and textures, [Colón] makes even file folders look gorgeous.

Publishers Weekly

08/26/2019

Cline-Ransome’s picture book biography pays tribute to African-American math prodigy Katherine Johnson, who soared past societal barriers to become one of NASA’s celebrated human computers. In long text blocks, the narrative underlines Johnson’s mathematical prowess and natural inquisitiveness (“Why? What? How?”), focusing on her early life (counting stars, skipping grades, earning a full college scholarship at 15), marriage and parenthood, and her career at Langley (early assignments, work amid the space race, persuading higher-ups that she should attend meetings) up through calculating the trajectory of astronaut John Glenn’s 1962 Earth orbit. Colón’s trademark illustrations, with their combed-through textures, set Johnson apart visually; her rainbow-hued dresses radiate alongside her white male colleagues’ white apparel. An author’s note concludes this handsomely illustrated book about a Hidden Figures standout. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)

September 15, 2019 - Booklist

Katherine Johnson, one of the African American mathematicians featured in the movie Hidden Figures, gets a solid introduction in this picture book for older readers. Born in West Virginia to parents who highly prized education, Johnson was a math whiz who started high school at age 10. Her extraordinary skills and mentoring helped her to eventually get a job at Langley Aeronautical Laboratory. When the space-flight unit asked for a "computer," as the women were called, she became an integral part of the team calculating flight paths. John Glenn wouldn't go up for his groundbreaking flight until she ran the numbers—a check on mechanical computers. ...Colón's attractive illustrations, often with hints of colored prisms, reflect the book's tone with the emphasis on accomplishment. An author's note adds heft to this attractive introduction to Johnson's life.

September 15, 2019 - Booklist

Katherine Johnson, one of the African American mathematicians featured in the movie Hidden Figures, gets a solid introduction in this picture book for older readers. Born in West Virginia to parents who highly prized education, Johnson was a math whiz who started high school at age 10. Her extraordinary skills and mentoring helped her to eventually get a job at Langley Aeronautical Laboratory. When the space-flight unit asked for a "computer," as the women were called, she became an integral part of the team calculating flight paths. John Glenn wouldn't go up for his groundbreaking flight until she ran the numbers—a check on mechanical computers. ...Colón's attractive illustrations, often with hints of colored prisms, reflect the book's tone with the emphasis on accomplishment. An author's note adds heft to this attractive introduction to Johnson's life.

School Library Journal

10/01/2019

Gr 1–4—Emphasizing Katherine Johnson's unquenchable curiosity, as well as her persistence in the face of discrimination against women and African Americans, veteran biographer Cline-Ransome describes Johnson's childhood, accelerated education, and path to NASA, culminating in her successful calculations for America's first orbital spaceflight. The book's final spread hints at Johnson's future involvement with Apollo 11, and an author's note provides further facts about her life. Illustrator Colón's signature lithographs enhance the book's tone: layers of watercolors and colored pencils draw readers into the lush, textured scenes that range from expansive (capturing the immensity of starry skies) to nostalgic (capturing atmospheric period details). Most effective is a motif of swirling colors in Johnson's clothing, a visual reminder of how her mind swirled with numbers and questions. VERDICT Although the scientific content of the text is best suited to older elementary school students, the tone is straightforward and inviting. A solid choice for most libraries, especially those seeking to strengthen their STEM collections.—Rebecca Honeycutt, NoveList, Durham, NC

Kirkus Reviews

2019-07-14
This biography of renowned mathematician Katherine Johnson featuring illustrations by Colón aims for elementary-age readers.

Cline-Ransome (Finding Langston, 2018, etc.) traces Johnson's love of math, curiosity about the world, and studiousness from her early entry to school through her help sending a man into space as a human computer at NASA. The text is detailed and lengthy, between one and four paragraphs of fairly small text on each spread. Many biographies of black achievers during segregation focus on society's limits and the subject's determination to reach beyond them. This book takes a subtler approach, mentioning segregation only once (at her new work assignment, "she ignored the stares and the COLORED GIRLS signs on the bathroom door and the segregated cafeteria") and the glass ceiling for women twice in a factual tone as potential obstacles that did not stop Johnson. Her work is described in the context of the space race, which helps to clarify the importance of her role. Colón's signature soft, textured illustrations evoke the time period and Johnson's feeling of wonder about the world, expressed in the refrain, "Why? What? How?" The text moves slowly and demands a fairly high comprehension level (e.g., "it was the job of these women computers to double-check the engineers' data, develop complex equations, and analyze the numbers"). An author's note repeats much of the text, adding quotes from Johnson and more details about her more recent recognition.

A detail-rich picture book best for readers who enjoy nonfiction and are interested in history or science. (Picture book/biography. 9-12)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781534404755
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
Publication date: 10/08/2019
Pages: 32
Sales rank: 183,446
Product dimensions: 8.80(w) x 11.20(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile: 1030L (what's this?)
Age Range: 4 - 8 Years

Customer Reviews