A picture-book biography of a humble genius who excelled in a career once out of reach for most African-Americans.
The 2016 film Hidden Figures tells the story of three black women who began working as human computers in the early 1950s for the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, which later became NASA. This book focuses on the life of one of those women, Katherine Johnson. From an early age, Katherine loved numbers and counted everything. Skipping three grades in school, Katherine was ready for high school at age 10, but her hometown in West Virginia allowed only white students to attend the high school. Her family moved to Institute, West Virginia, to enable Katherine to attend a black high school—from which she graduated at 14. Becker emphasizes Katherine’s tenacity, competence, creativity, and intellectual curiosity as she gains the trust of the astronauts whose safety and success depended on the work of the human computers. Phumiruk’s stylistically varied, colorful illustrations feature mathematical computations and notes in the backgrounds, emphasizing Katherine’s passion for numbers. Becker makes good use of the title, playing on different forms of the word “count” throughout the story, as when Katherine says, “Count on me” to calculate the Apollo’s flight paths.
An excellent biography that will inspire young readers, especially girls, to do what they love. (Picture book/biography. 5-8)