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Counting on Katherine

Counting on Katherine

Published: 15 Apr 2021

Paperback / softback, 40 pages

Recommended for age 5+ and 7+

By Helaine Becker

Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

Published by Pan Macmillan

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Winner of the information book category of the UKLA Book Awards 2020. Katherine Johnson is the mathematical genius who helped make the historic Apollo 11 moon landings possible and made sure that Apollo 13 returned home safely when the mission was in critical danger. As a child, Katherine loved to count.

She counted the steps on the road, the number of dishes and spoons she washed in the kitchen sink, everything! Boundless, curious, and excited by calculations, young Katherine longed to know as much as she could about maths, about the universe . . .

Helaine Becker interviewed Katherine and her family for this authorized biography. From Katherine's early beginnings as a gifted student to her heroic accomplishments as a prominent mathematician at NASA, this is the true story of a groundbreaking African-American woman who went above and beyond what was expected of her in the 1960s, saving lives and making enormous contributions to history. Featuring Dow Phumiruk's gorgeous full-colour illustrations throughout.dden Figures.

This title features in our The Reading Journey selection.

Tagged mathematics , significant lives and space, planets and stars

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Reviewed by Rebecca Simpson-Hargreaves

Counting on Katherine is the story of how Katherine Johnson played a critical role in the success of NASA’s first space flights.

Katherine loved mathematics and longed to be a mathematician, however in the segregated, gender biased 1930s America; this seemed like a dream out of reach. Through determination and the support of her family Katherine was able to complete further education and when NASA started to advertise for female mathematicians she jumped at the chance becoming one of their ‘human computers‘.  Her talents in being able to calculate trajectories for space craft led her to be an integral part of the team and saved the lives of the Apollo 13 crew.

Counting on Katherine is an interesting and inspirational story, with illustrations that are vivid and help carry the tale along. The text is a mixture of simple to read to more complicated sentences, with the central thread of ‘You can count on me‘ being repeated throughout. It’s biggest draw is that it’s based on a real person’s life and offers a window into understanding both racial and gender difficulties in an accessible, child friendly way.

This book would compliment any topic on space, promoting STEM subjects to both girls and boys. It could also be used for a PSHE lesson, or as a Philosophy for Children book stimulating talk about roles and diversity and for Black History Month.

I am a lecturer in Primary Education specialising in English at the University of Manchester. Lover of picture books, poetry, non fiction and fantasy. Passionate about using children's literature to develop children's empathy, self-awareness and social justice and human rights.