This inspiring, relatable life story is in the good hands (er, paws) of a biographer.

THE ONLY TRUE BIOGRAPHY OF MAE JEMISON BY SNEEZE, HER CAT

A cat biographer interviews the first Black female astronaut in this second installment of a children’s book series.

Former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison wrote an autobiography, Find Where the Wind Goes (2001), and she has been the subject of many works for children. Now, the true story of her life is told—by her cat, Sneeze (“with hardly any help” from author/humorist Greenburg). In this entertaining and informative book for ages 8 to 12, Sneeze, who speaks English as well as “cattish,” interviews Jemison about her childhood, when she was “always in motion…jumping, climbing, falling, and dancing.” Sneeze also explores influences, events, challenges, and Jemison’s own inexhaustible drive that launched her into space and history. Greenburg’s series opener was The Only True Biography of Ben Franklin by His Cat, Missy Hooper (2020). The author’s light touch in this sequel doesn’t trivialize the serious aspects of Jemison’s story, including her experiences with racism. Greenburg allows Sneeze’s puzzlement over why color should matter to send its own message. Jemison remembers the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and being frightened as much by the violent turmoil that erupted as by the armed National Guardsmen marching past her family’s house. She describes what it was like to be a 16-year-old freshman pursuing chemical engineering at Stanford University and facing dismissive professors. Cornell University Medical College, stints as a young doctor in Asia and Africa, and other notable accomplishments followed before Jemison realized her childhood dream aboard the Endeavor space shuttle in 1992. At Sneeze’s prompting, Jemison describes astronaut training and space travel in absorbing detail. A few diverting digressions from the biography reflect the cat’s interest in such subjects as Africa’s most lethal animals and how a litter box might work (or not) in weightless conditions. (The latter is part of the gross and engrossing chapter “How Astronauts Poop in Space and Do Other Stuff.”) Hill offers black-and-white, cartoony illustrations. The stirring book ends with Jemison’s astonishing post-NASA career.

This inspiring, relatable life story is in the good hands (er, paws) of a biographer.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63411-011-2

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Thunderstone Books

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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The car gets shortchanged, but comparing the divergent career paths of its (putative) two riders may give readers food for...

TWO MEN AND A CAR

FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT, AL CAPONE, AND A CADILLAC V-8

A custom-built, bulletproof limo links two historical figures who were pre-eminent in more or less different spheres.

Garland admits that a claim that FDR was driven to Congress to deliver his “Day of Infamy” speech in a car that once belonged to Capone rests on shaky evidence. He nonetheless uses the anecdote as a launchpad for twin portraits of contemporaries who occupy unique niches in this country’s history but had little in common. Both were smart, ambitious New Yorkers and were young when their fathers died, but they definitely “headed in opposite directions.” As he fills his biographical sketches with standard-issue facts and has disappointingly little to say about the car itself (which was commissioned by Capone in 1928 and still survives), this outing seems largely intended to be a vehicle for the dark, heavy illustrations. These are done in muted hues with densely scratched surfaces and angled so that the two men, the period backgrounds against which they are posed, and the car have monumental looks. It’s a reach to bill this, as the author does, a “story about America,” but it does at least offer a study in contrasts featuring two of America’s most renowned citizens. Most of the human figures are white in the art, but some group scenes include a few with darker skin.

The car gets shortchanged, but comparing the divergent career paths of its (putative) two riders may give readers food for thought. (timeline, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-88448-620-6

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Tilbury House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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A detail-rich picture book best for readers who enjoy nonfiction and are interested in history or science.

COUNTING THE STARS

THE STORY OF KATHERINE JOHNSON, NASA MATHEMATICIAN

This biography of renowned mathematician Katherine Johnson featuring illustrations by Colón aims for elementary-age readers.

Cline-Ransome (Finding Langston, 2018, etc.) traces Johnson’s love of math, curiosity about the world, and studiousness from her early entry to school through her help sending a man into space as a human computer at NASA. The text is detailed and lengthy, between one and four paragraphs of fairly small text on each spread. Many biographies of black achievers during segregation focus on society’s limits and the subject’s determination to reach beyond them. This book takes a subtler approach, mentioning segregation only once (at her new work assignment, “she ignored the stares and the COLORED GIRLS signs on the bathroom door and the segregated cafeteria”) and the glass ceiling for women twice in a factual tone as potential obstacles that did not stop Johnson. Her work is described in the context of the space race, which helps to clarify the importance of her role. Colón’s signature soft, textured illustrations evoke the time period and Johnson’s feeling of wonder about the world, expressed in the refrain, “Why? What? How?” The text moves slowly and demands a fairly high comprehension level (e.g., “it was the job of these women computers to double-check the engineers’ data, develop complex equations, and analyze the numbers”). An author’s note repeats much of the text, adding quotes from Johnson and more details about her more recent recognition.

A detail-rich picture book best for readers who enjoy nonfiction and are interested in history or science. (Picture book/biography. 9-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5344-0475-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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