From a long-lived American legend, this rich volume is a national treasure.

REACHING FOR THE MOON

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NASA MATHEMATICIAN KATHERINE JOHNSON

Much has been written about the black women mathematicians who worked behind the scenes at NASA; now young readers can hear Katherine Johnson’s story in her own words.

Johnson begins her autobiography with her decision, at the age of 4, to start attending school with her brother so she could help him with his math. Impressed, the teacher opened a kindergarten class, but soon Katherine was skipping entire grades. Her family relocated so that she and her siblings could attend high school and college (beyond seventh grade, there was no school for “colored” youth in their hometown). Johnson graduated college at 18 with degrees in French and mathematics before going on to teach and pursue her now-famous career at NASA, yet she comes across as humble and warm, passing on to her children the refrain her father taught her as inoculation against racism: “You are no better than anyone else, but nobody else is better than you.” Johnson describes the culture and way of life in each of the places where she lived and worked, with an honest portrayal of the common racial injustices and indignities alongside the shared humanity that also existed. She artfully weaves in the heart of how African American communities have survived and advanced—through “self-help and sacrificing” for the next generation. Her writing style is comfortable and conversational, making the book feel like a visit over tea that you wish would never end.

From a long-lived American legend, this rich volume is a national treasure. (Memoir. 9-adult)

Pub Date: July 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5344-4083-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A breezy, bustling bucketful of courageous acts and eye-popping feats.

50 IMPRESSIVE KIDS AND THEIR AMAZING (AND TRUE!) STORIES

From the They Did What? series

Why should grown-ups get all the historical, scientific, athletic, cinematic, and artistic glory?

Choosing exemplars from both past and present, Mitchell includes but goes well beyond Alexander the Great, Anne Frank, and like usual suspects to introduce a host of lesser-known luminaries. These include Shapur II, who was formally crowned king of Persia before he was born, Indian dancer/professional architect Sheila Sri Prakash, transgender spokesperson Jazz Jennings, inventor Param Jaggi, and an international host of other teen or preteen activists and prodigies. The individual portraits range from one paragraph to several pages in length, and they are interspersed with group tributes to, for instance, the Nazi-resisting “Swingkinder,” the striking New York City newsboys, and the marchers of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade. Mitchell even offers would-be villains a role model in Elagabalus, “boy emperor of Rome,” though she notes that he, at least, came to an awful end: “Then, then! They dumped his remains in the Tiber River, to be nommed by fish for all eternity.” The entries are arranged in no evident order, and though the backmatter includes multiple booklists, a personality quiz, a glossary, and even a quick Braille primer (with Braille jokes to decode), there is no index. Still, for readers whose fires need lighting, there’s motivational kindling on nearly every page.

A breezy, bustling bucketful of courageous acts and eye-popping feats. (finished illustrations not seen) (Collective biography. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-14-751813-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Puffin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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Humble, endearing and utterly easy to relate to; don’t miss this one.

THE DUMBEST IDEA EVER!

The charismatic creator of the Eisner-nominated Amelia Rules! series recounts his beginnings as a cartoonist.

From the very first panel, Gownley’s graphic memoir is refreshingly different. He’s not the archetypal nerd, and he doesn’t retreat to draw due to feelings of loneliness or isolation. Gownley seems to be a smart kid and a talented athlete, and he has a loyal group of friends and a girlfriend. After he falls ill, first with chicken pox and then pneumonia, he falls behind in school and loses his head-of-the-class standing—a condition he is determined to reverse. A long-standing love of comics leads him to write his own, though his first attempt is shot down by his best friend, who suggests he should instead write a comic about their group. He does, and it’s an instant sensation. Gownley’s story is wonderful; his small-town life is so vividly evinced, it’s difficult to not get lost in it. While readers will certainly pick up on the nostalgia, it should be refreshing—if not completely alien—for younger readers to see teens interacting without texting, instead using phones with cords. Eagle-eyed readers will also be able to see the beginnings of his well-loved books about Amelia. He includes an author’s note that shouldn’t be overlooked—just be sure to keep the tissues handy.

Humble, endearing and utterly easy to relate to; don’t miss this one. (author’s note) (Graphic memoir. 10 & up)

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-545-45346-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Graphix/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2013

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