Review of One Step Further: My Story of Math, the Moon, and a Lifelong Mission

One Step Further: My Story of Math, the Moon, and a Lifelong Mission
by Katherine Johnson with Joylette Hylick and Katherine Moore; illus. by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow
Primary    National Geographic Kids    48 pp.    g
1/21    978-1-4263-7193-6    $17.99
Library ed.  978-1-4263-7194-3    $27.90

This picture-book biography isn’t just the story of NASA “computer” Katherine Johnson (1918–2020), who, among many noteworthy achievements, calculated the orbit for astronaut John Glenn’s historic spaceflight around the Earth. It’s also, importantly, the story of Johnson’s three daughters, Joylette, Connie, and Kathy (two of whom are co-authors of the book) — and it’s a poignant chronicle of the racism they all confronted. The book’s scrapbook-like design features an impressive array of photographs: personal snapshots of Johnson and her family, photos of Johnson at work, images of her NASA badge and the pearl necklace she always wore, archival photos of segregated public spaces and of segregation protestors, and stock images of astronauts — the list goes on. Grounding all these photographs are Barlow’s colorful illustrations; they unpack the emotion and lend immediacy, particularly to the daughters’ experiences. For example, after the family’s move to Newport News, Virginia, where Johnson soon started work at NACA (NASA’s predecessor), a beach scene shows the three frowning girls, with Joylette saying, in a speech bubble: “We were forced to go to the ‘Colored Only’ beach. White people were mean to us because of the color of our skin.” The blend of Johnson’s and her daughters’ voices is intimate and inspiring: “This is our story,” they tell us, proclaiming their history with courage and pride. Back matter includes historical context on racial segregation in America, a biographical profile of Johnson, a timeline, and a glossary.

From the March/April 2021 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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