Counting the Stars: The Story of Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician

by Lesa Cline-Ransome (Author) Raul Colon (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

"A detail-rich picture book." --Kirkus Reviews

"Straightforward and inviting." --School Library Journal

From award-winning author Lesa Cline-Ransome and acclaimed illustrator Raúl Colón comes the sensitive, informative, and inspiring picture book biography of the remarkable mathematician Katherine Johnson, one of the NASA "human computers" whose work was critical to the first US space launch.

Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or astronauts walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as "human computers" used their knowledge, pencils, adding machines, and writing paper to calculate the orbital mechanics needed to launch spacecraft. Katherine Johnson was one of these mathematicians who used trajectories and complex equations to chart the space program. Even as Virginia's Jim Crow laws were in place in the early 1950s, Katherine worked analyzing data at the NACA (later NASA) Langley laboratory.

In 1962, as NASA prepared for the orbital mission of John Glenn, Katherine Johnson was called upon and John Glenn said "get the girl" (Katherine Johnson) to run the numbers by hand to chart the complexity of the orbital flight. He knew that his flight couldn't work without her unique skills.

President Barack Obama awarded Katherine Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 and her incredible life inspired the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures. Get to know this incredible and inspirational woman with this beautifully illustrated picture book from an award-winning duo.

Kirkus Reviews

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

School Library Journal

Gr 1-4--Emphasizing Katherine Johnson's unquenchable curiosity, as well as her persistence in the face of discrimination against women and African Americans, veteran biographer Cline-Ransome describes Johnson's childhood, accelerated education, and path to NASA, culminating in her successful calculations for America's first orbital spaceflight. The book's final spread hints at Johnson's future involvement with Apollo 11, and an author's note provides further facts about her life. Illustrator Colón's signature lithographs enhance the book's tone: layers of watercolors and colored pencils draw readers into the lush, textured scenes that range from expansive (capturing the immensity of starry skies) to nostalgic (capturing atmospheric period details). Most effective is a motif of swirling colors in Johnson's clothing, a visual reminder of how her mind swirled with numbers and questions. VERDICT Although the scientific content of the text is best suited to older elementary school students, the tone is straightforward and inviting. A solid choice for most libraries, especially those seeking to strengthen their STEM collections.--Rebecca Honeycutt, NoveList, Durham, NC

Copyright 2019 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Cline-Ransome's picture book biography pays tribute to African-American math prodigy Katherine Johnson, who soared past societal barriers to become one of NASA's celebrated human computers. In long text blocks, the narrative underlines Johnson's mathematical prowess and natural inquisitiveness ("Why? What? How?"), focusing on her early life (counting stars, skipping grades, earning a full college scholarship at 15), marriage and parenthood, and her career at Langley (early assignments, work amid the space race, persuading higher-ups that she should attend meetings) up through calculating the trajectory of astronaut John Glenn's 1962 Earth orbit. Colón's trademark illustrations, with their combed-through textures, set Johnson apart visually; her rainbow-hued dresses radiate alongside her white male colleagues' white apparel. An author's note concludes this handsomely illustrated book about a Hidden Figures standout. Ages 4-8. (Oct.)

Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.


Katherine Johnson, one of the African American mathematicians featured in the movie "Hidden Figures," gets a solid introduction in this picture book for older readers. 

Review quotes

Katherine Johnson, one of the African American mathematicians featured in the movie Hidden Figures, gets a solid introduction in this picture book for older readers. Born in West Virginia to parents who highly prized education, Johnson was a math whiz who started high school at age 10. Her extraordinary skills and mentoring helped her to eventually get a job at Langley Aeronautical Laboratory. When the space-flight unit asked for a "computer," as the women were called, she became an integral part of the team calculating flight paths. John Glenn wouldn't go up for his groundbreaking flight until she ran the numbers—a check on mechanical computers. ...Colón's attractive illustrations, often with hints of colored prisms, reflect the book's tone with the emphasis on accomplishment. An author's note adds heft to this attractive introduction to Johnson's life.—Booklist "September 15, 2019 "
Lesa Cline-Ransome
Lesa Cline-Ransome and James Ransome have collaborated on many award-winning picture books for children. These include Before She was Harriet, a Coretta Scott King honor book; Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the first Black-and-White Jazz Band in History; Satchel Paige, which was an ALA Best Book for Children and Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass, which received starred reviews in Booklist and School Library Journal. They live in the Hudson River Valley region of New York.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
Publication date
October 20, 2019
BISAC categories
JNF018010 - Juvenile Nonfiction | People & Places | United States - African-American
JNF025210 - Juvenile Nonfiction | History | United States/20th Century
JNF007090 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Science & Technology
JNF007120 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Women
JNF051010 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Technology | Aeronautics, Astronautics & Space Science
Library of Congress categories
United States
African American women
Women mathematicians
African American women mathematicians
Johnson, Katherine G

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