This simple biography of African American NASA computer Dorothy Vaughan contrasts her intelligence and initiative with the nonsensical rules of segregation in her time.
Vaughan is introduced as a woman who worked as a human computer during the 1940s and 1950s. Her “unusual” accomplishment of attending college as an African American woman was followed by a job teaching in segregated schools, which didn’t pay much. When she saw that the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory was hiring human computers, she applied and got the job. At Langley, the engineers who were testing airplanes were mostly men (depicted as white in the illustrations), and they needed the help of human computers, who were mostly women. In the middle of the story, segregation is introduced as “one thing that didn’t make sense” at Langley and throughout Vaughan’s life. But “Dorothy didn’t let this stop her. She worked hard. She worked smart.” After becoming a supervisor, she decided to learn about the new mechanical computer. She became an expert in computer code and taught others. Vaughan’s accomplishments are truly impressive, and this is one of the first picture books to focus on this mathematician, one of those featured in Hidden Figures. Unfortunately, the text relates her story as a recitation of facts, and the pictures lack variety and appear static. This book is one of four introducing young readers to women in STEM; simultaneously publishing are Fossil Huntress (about paleontologist Mary Leakey), Human Computer (about engineer Mary Jackson), and Space Adventurer (about astronaut Bonnie Dunbar).
While this book gets the job done, here’s hoping livelier titles on this fascinating personality will appear soon. (activities, timeline, glossary) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)