A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition, by Margot Lee Shetterly, is a kids' version of the best-selling book for adults that inspired the Oscar-nominated film of the same name. It brings to light the story of four African American women mathematicians who worked on the teams developing aircraft and spacecraft for the United States. The book starts earlier than the film, during World War II, when one of the women first got hired as a "computer" (someone doing mathematical calculations) helping to develop faster planes for the war effort. The stories of the four women are set squarely in the context of the racial climate of segregated, pre-civil rights Langley, Virginia. These real women role models, previously unsung, are a powerful inspiration for young African American girls interested in considering careers in STEM fields. There's an audiobook version narrated by Bahni Turpin.
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What's the story?
HIDDEN FIGURES YOUNG READERS' EDITION tells the story of four African American women who worked as mathematicians at NASA and its predecessor, NACA, helping to design aircraft and spacecraft. The book begins in 1943, when the U.S. needed to develop faster planes for the war effort to compete with Germany, and continues through the postwar years during the Cold War and the space race, when we competed with Russia to launch spacecraft. The four women profiled grew up in the segregated South and earned their math degrees at "colored" institutions. Talented mathematicians all, they worked under conditions of segregation -- not being able to use "white" bathrooms at work and having to sit in segregated sections in the lunchroom. Nonetheless, they distinguished themselves by their focus and work and contributed significantly to the research and development of the agency.
Is it any good?
Chockablock with historical detail, this book celebrating the remarkable accomplishments of four African-American female math whizzes who worked for NASA during segregation inspires mightily. Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition covers much of the same territory of the film Hidden Figures, though it starts earlier than the space race, in 1943, giving readers a sense of the World War II years as well. Author Margot Lee Shetterly excels at providing historical context, and since she wrote this version of the book for young readers, she's careful to explain information that might be familiar to adults. For instance, she provides a list of ways blacks and whites were kept separate under segregation laws and explains that in World War II the Germans "were fighting on the other side of the war."
Shetterly also takes her job as historian seriously and doesn't overly spice the story by attributing unverifiable thoughts or dialogue to the women; the sources for all dialogue are credited at the end of the book. This might make the material a bit drier in places than kid readers are used to, so the book and film could enrich each other with pairing. These powerful STEM models who succeeded despite societal restrictions are a potent inspiration to young African-American girls -- and everyone.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the racial segregation described in Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition. Did you know that there were laws banning blacks and whites from eating in the same restaurants or going to the same schools, beaches, bathrooms, and so on, as listed at the beginning of the book? What are the laws now?
Why were women able to get more work during World War II? What other sorts of jobs did women expand into during that war?
This book starts before the age of computers and personal computers. How was life different then? How would not having a computer affect you?
- Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
- Genre: History
- Topics: Activism, STEM, Great Girl Role Models, History, Science and Nature, Space and Aliens
- Book type: Non-Fiction
- Publisher: Harper
- Publication date: November 29, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 240
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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For kids who love math, science, and civil rights history
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