Review of A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon

A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon
by Suzanne Slade; illus. by Veronica Miller Jamison
Primary    Little, Brown    40 pp.
3/19    978-0-316-43517-8    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-316-51131-5    $9.99

Math genius Katherine Johnson (née Coleman) was a star student, twice skipping a grade before her family moved 120 miles for her to attend—at age ten—a high school that allowed African American students to enroll. After graduating from West Virginia State College — at age eighteen — she became a math teacher. In 1953, Katherine started work as a “computer,” or mathematician, for Langley Aeronautical Laboratory in Virginia (part of what would become NASA). Her lightning-fast problem-solving skills and keen questions soon landed her a spot on the space team. She showed up — on purpose — for the team’s men-only meeting and wowed them with her geometry expertise. During her career, Johnson calculated Alan Shepard’s First-American-in-Space flight path; verified, at John Glenn’s request, Glenn’s First-American-to-Orbit-Earth trajectory; and planned, double-checked, and approved Apollo 11’s Race-to-the-Moon-and-Back flight path. Inspiring, upbeat, and clever, Slade’s text deliberately includes incorrect equations, printed in red ink, to cleverly highlight the racism, sexism, and other false beliefs that Johnson confronted. “Back then, people said women could only be teachers or nurses. Katherine knew that was wrong — as wrong as 10 – 5 = 3.” Equations, along with angles and diagrams, also fill Jamison’s expressive, layered illustrations. The 2016 book and movie Hidden Figures put Johnson in the spotlight; to help keep her there — 
and inspire future mathematicians —
 share this and Helaine Becker’s Counting on Katherine with the picture-book-biography crowd. Images from Johnson’s work, a timeline, author and illustrator notes, and a list of sources are appended.

From the July/August 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Tanya D. Auger

Tanya D. Auger
Tanya D. Auger is a former middle school teacher with a master’s degree in learning and teaching from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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