Counting The Stars: The Story of Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician (Lesa Cline-Ransome)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Counting The Stars: The Story of Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician, written by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by Raúl Colón, a detailed look at the life and work of the noted computer.

Born to humble beginnings, Katherine showed an immediate aptitude for numbers and an insatiable curiosity. Encouraged by her parents and teachers, Katherine started school early, then managed to skip several grades by her teen years; in college, she was so skilled at math that an entire advanced course was designed with her as the sole student. After falling in love, marrying, and having three daughters, she and her husband moved to Virginia to pursue work, and Katherine was hired as a human “computer” for NACA (the precursor to NASA). Impressing the engineers, scientists, and astronauts with her incredible mind and impeccable work – and fighting for her place at the table to be recognized for both – Katherine went on to be a pivotal force in NASA’s Mercury missions and beyond.

Inspiring. Since Hidden Figures, Katherine Johnson has become a far-more recognized name, and this detailed illustrated biography is a great way for middle-grade readers to get an introduction to her skills and contributions. Interestingly, the text mentions issues of race and gender mostly in passing, choosing not to dwell on the obstacles Johnson faced as a black woman at the forefront of STEM in the 50’s and 60’s, and instead focusing on her background and work. It’s a choice that works well, allowing Katherine, rather than racism and sexism, to be the focus of her own story. Colón’s art is beautiful, realism touched with bits of magic and science to capture Johnson’s inquisitiveness. This one is lengthy, and the language is for strong readers, but JJ loved the art and the compelling structure. A great inspiration for aspiring STEM minds, and we recommend it. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Computer Decoder: Dorothy Vaughn, Computer Scientist (Andi Diehn)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Computer Decoder: Dorothy Vaughn, Computer Scientist, written by Andi Diehn and illustrated by Katie Mazeika, a lovely portrait of the mathematician and computer expert.

Dorothy grew up in a time when it was unusual for any woman to go to college, much less an African-American woman; yet this never stopped Dorothy, who believed in the power of her intellect and the value of hard work. After graduating, she taught math in segregated school, but worried that her meager salary would not be able to provide for her children to attend college one day as she did. So when NASA (then Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory) advertised a need for human computers – people, mostly women, who solved complex mathematical equations for the mostly male engineers – Dorothy applied, and was hired. Through her dedication and work, Dorothy rose to a supervisory role and fought to end the segregation of the computer workforce at Langley. When the first mechanical computer was installed at NASA, Dorothy saw the future of her and her subordinates’ career, and taught herself, then others, how to read and write computer code, keeping their knowledge base up to date with the tech and becoming a computer expert in the process.

Inspiring. Vaughn, who was one of the women profiled in the Hidden Figures book and movie, was known for her phenomenal intellect, but also her forward thinking and dedication to her employees, and this book does a nice job of introducing those elements of her story. It’s not as in depth as some of the other recent materials about the NASA computers are, but it does focus specifically on Vaughn and her achievements, which sets it apart. The illustrations are colorful, if a little flat in the energy and expressions of the characters. There are some great materials in the backmatter, however, including a few inspiring quotes from Dorothy and her contemporaries of the time. The length is fine for even little bookworms, and JJ enjoyed it. So while this one has a few weak areas, there’s still a lot to love – primarily, the story of a brilliant and brave black female pioneer in STEM – and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Go For The Moon: A Rocket, A Boy, and the First Moon Landing (Chris Gall)

Hello, friends! To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, our book today is Go For The Moon: A Rocket, A Boy, and the First Moon Landing by Chris Gall.

Based on the author’s childhood memories, our story begins with a young bespectacled boy preparing for the event of the century: the launch of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. He has his astronaut outfit, and has built models in every scale of the remarkable equipment that will be used in the real mission: a water rocket like the Saturn V, a cardboard command module clubhouse, miniatures of the astronauts and even of the LEM. Following along on his fuzzy tv, he re-enacts the mission as he watches it unfold – but when Neil Armstrong takes his historic first steps, silence falls and all eyes are glued to the television in wonder. Once the astronauts return safely to earth, the boy begins planning his next launch, a lifelong love of astronautics ignited.

A wonderful balance of education and nostalgia. As outlined in the afterward, Gall draws on his own memories of a childhood inspired by the Apollo missions and what they achieved, and this personal connection shows on every page. The mechanics of the moon launch are explained in a detailed yet accessible manner that shows a passion for the science, and the little boy’s perspective that weaves the story together captures both the excitement and awe of experiencing the landing live. Detailed drawings capture the spirit of both perfectly – a spread of the astronauts floating in their module, Buzz Aldrin breaking the fourth wall as he smirks at the reader is especially joyful. The length is best for older bookworms, but some of the technical jargon can be skimmed over for younger readers; JJ still appreciated the lovely illustrations, even if the tech was a little advanced for her right now. Overall, a lovely historical account of a seminal moment in human history, and Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Curiosity: The Story Of A Mars Rover (Markus Motum)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Curiosity: The Story Of A Mars Rover by Markus Motum, a fun- and fact-filled look at the titular robot.

All alone on Mars, Earth’s closest planetary neighbor, there is a robot named Curiosity, roaming the planet’s surface and conducting experiments on what it finds. Told from the intrepid bot’s point of view, the reader is given a brief idea of why Curiosity is there: because human beings always want to learn more about the universe around them. Following in the bootprints of Neil Armstrong and the other men and robots that came before it, Curiosity was built for exploration and data acquisition on Mars, and with the ability to conduct experiments and send data back to Earth. This was a feat of years of research, design, engineering, and astronautics, and culminated in Curiosity’s groundbreaking voyage and landing on Mars. Now the robot is exploring the far-off planet, and leaving treadmarks where it goes – hopefully someday, footprints with join them.

Fascinating! I was so impressed by how jam-packed with information this was, from the main narrative to fun facts scattered throughout to wonderful appendix. Even art is opportunity for more learning, such as providing a USA map with labeled states or a solar system with planets’ names during sections covering the robot’s travels. The text is highly informative, yet having it told in Curiosity’s voice keeps it from being too dry. The space-age inspired art is perfect, keeping things simple yet engaging and providing great visual aids for the facts. It is a bit on the lengthy side, though – JJ started to get a bit squirmy by the end – and would probably be better saved for slightly older bookworms. But overall, it’s an enlightening and inspirational look at a modern marvel, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Hidden Figures: The True Story Of Four Black Women And The Space Race (Margot Lee Shetterly & Winifred Conkling)

Hello, friends! Our book tonight is the wonderful Hidden Figures: The True Story Of Four Black Women And The Space Race, written by Margot Lee Shetterly and Winifred Conkling and illustrated by Laura Freeman.

Based on Shetterly’s book of the same name, Hidden Figures examines the contributions of four remarkable women of color to the space and aeronautics industry from WWII to the height of the space race. Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Johnson were all good at math… VERY good. And math is what the government needs to build planes, then rockets, then craft capable of safely carrying and returning men to space. However, all four live in a time in which women, especially black women, are held back by racist and sexist laws and conventions. But these women knew that they had valuable gifts, so they fought, studied, and persisted to have their work recognized for the indispensable contribution it was. They and many other computers used their brilliance to further the space program and helped NASA touch the stars.

Anyone who’s familiar with the original book or the movie it was based on knows what a fantastic story this is. The women of Hidden Figures are remarkable, both in their natural intellect and the fortitude they showed in fighting for advancement and recognition, and this book does a good job of editing their stories down for young readers. Focusing on both their scientific and civil rights contributions, as well as giving an idea of the limitations black women faced at that time, it manages to tell a concise yet compelling story spread out over nearly 30 years. The illustrations are fabulous, staying grounded in reality yet adding just a touch of artistic flair to drive vital points home. The length is best for slightly older readers, though JJ made it through fine. A knockout that celebrates science, women, and people of color and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!