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Reviewed by:
Becker, Helaine Counting on Katherine; illus by Dow Phumiruk. Ottaviano/Holt, 2018 [34p]
ISBN 978-1-250-13752-4 $17.99
Reviewed from galleys R 5–8 yrs

Children who want to share in the Hidden Figures buzz can start right here with a picture book biography of Katherine Johnson, who with the help of her determined parents leapt hurdle after hurdle in a racially separate and unequal educational system. After graduating college, she secured work at NACA (NASA’s forerunner) as a “computer” (as the humans who worked out the figures were known) in the opening years of the space race and eventually became so valued a team leader that John Glenn “refused to fly unless Katherine okayed the numbers.” Although Johnson’s contribution to the high-pressure rescue of the Apollo 13 crew is the climax here, the overall story is one of major historical developments: women mathematicians breaking into a men’s field; Black scientists breaking into a white science world; “computers” signifying humans with calculators; pioneering space journeys undertaken with a knowledge base and skillset that today seem unthinkably scant. Phumiruk’s digital artwork convincingly portrays Johnson as brainy and imaginative, in keeping with the author note observation that “her role . . . always involved more than mere number crunching. It relied heavily on hunches.” That combination of math and intuition also emerges visually in several embedded graphics that assist readers in understanding the trajectories Johnson calculated. This title is ready made for “My Hero” biography reports. A list of adult sources is included. [End Page 418]

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