Counting the Stars: The Story of Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Counting the Stars: The Story of Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician, by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by award-winner Raúl Colón, tells the inspiring history of a "human computer" and Black woman who calculated flight paths for some of the most famous space flights in United States history. Johnson (and some of her colleagues) was the subject of the 2016 biopic Hidden Figures. This biography emphasizes the power of curiosity, perseverance, and mentorship in personal and career achievement. It has a light touch when it comes to exploring the racism and sexism Johnson faced, focusing in on her admirable work ethic and confidence in demanding she be treated as an equal. This book is a detailed, worthwhile deep dive into the life and work of Katherine Johnson, appropriate for older elementary readers who like biographies and nonfiction about space.
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What's the Story?
COUNTING THE STARS: THE STORY OF KATHERINE JOHNSON, NASA MATHEMATICIAN introduces Katherine as a math whiz kid who skips grades, starts high school at age 10, and has college math courses designed just for her. After a few years teaching high school, she lands a job as a human computer in the segregated computer pool at Langley Aeronautics and quickly proves indispensable to the flight research team. When John Glenn is set to orbit the Earth, he trusts only her to do a final check on the machine computer numbers. When that flight is a success, Katherine wonders where else her math skills can help astronauts explore. End notes tell of her accomplishments after the Glenn orbit.
Is It Any Good?
This information-rich book with its luminous illustrations tells a compelling story about an important American historical figure. Spreads of illustrator Raúl Colón's trademark brushed-through pictures subtly make Katherine the star with prismatic rainbow dresses, while the men get plain white shirts. The timeline focuses on Katherine's early life as a math whiz kid, grade-skipper and her early college admittance, marriage and kids, and impressive career at NASA through John Glen's 1962 orbit of the earth, for which she calculated flight paths. The story doesn't emphasize or ignore the racism and sexism she faced, but emphasizes her brilliance and indispensability to NASA.
The book does not explain how Black women came to work at Langley as human computers, which would have been welcome as a part of the historical context. Pages often include several paragraphs, so the text can feel quite dense and slow moving. The book requires attention and good comprehension skills of solo readers, but the effort will be worth it for older elementary kids who are budding astronomers or just love biographies.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about racism and sexism Katherine faced in Counting the Stars: The Story of Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician. How rare was it for a woman to be an engineer or mathematician in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, particularly for women of color? How much do you think things have changed?
Talk about the character strengths of Katherine Johnson. In what ways have you shown perseverance or teamwork?
Who are some other women in history who accomplished great things? Who are some of your favorites?
- Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome
- Illustrator: Raúl Colón
- Genre: Picture Book
- Topics: STEM, Great Girl Role Models, History, Science and Nature
- Book type: Non-Fiction
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
- Publication date: October 8, 2019
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 4 - 8
- Number of pages: 32
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: January 8, 2020
Our Editors Recommend
Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematican Katherine Johnson
Must-read true story of trailblazing NASA mathematician.
Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition
Powerful true story of African American women at NASA.
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World
Lively, illustrated bios encourage girls to pursue STEM.
For kids who love science and biographies
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