Back in March, I was trying to find a biography to read to the 3rd graders at Bellville Elementary during their monthly library visit. Since March is women’s history month and I wanted to get the students thinking about the Summer Library Program I found the perfect fit with Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker. This wonderful biography goes along with our Summer Library Program theme of A Universe of Stories which runs June 3 through July 27.
This picture book biography tells the inspiring story of Katherine Johnson and her influence on and contributions to the United States’ space exploration program. Katherine grew up in West Virginia. She was extremely bright and she loved math. Katherine had to face adversity because of the color of her skin. Her family had to move to a different town that had a black high school since her town had an all-white high school. She graduated high school at 14 then graduated college at 18. She became an elementary teacher but wanted to pursue mathematician jobs which weren’t available to women.
She eventually got a job at the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) which became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Katherine worked as a “computer” which was a position for women only who had to calculate long series of numbers. During the Apollo 13 mission, there was an explosion and Katherine was called upon to give the precise flight path so the astronauts could get back home safely. Katherine’s calculations were correct and Apollo 13 made it back to Earth. Katherine had many more accomplishments in her career and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
This straightforward biography has lovely watercolor illustrations. There are sources listed in the back of the book. A timeline would have made a good addition. Children can easily understand this captivating story. The 3rd graders of Bellville Elementary enjoyed this book and couldn’t get over the fact that Katherine Johnson is still alive at 100 years old. It is impressive and what an amazing life she has lived.
There are other biographies about Katherine Johnson in our library system like A Computer called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon written by Suzanne Slade and Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly with Winifred Conkling. The library also has the movie Hidden Figures in our collection as well as the movie History Kids. Katherine Johnson, NASA's Human Computer.