#WomenReadWomen2019 Books Early Readers Features Genre Lifespan of a Reader Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes Sisterhood and Female Bonds

[Nonfiction Wednesday] Katherine And Her Female Tribe Of “Computers”

"Counting On Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13" by Helaine Becker and Dow Phumiruk.

Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2019 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, when we can.


Counting On Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13

Written by Helaine Becker Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
Published by Henry Holt & Co. (2018).
ISBN: 1250137527 (ISBN13: 9781250137524)
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

I first learned about Katherine Johnson when I watched the movie Hidden Figures around two years ago while on the plane traveling somewhere. When I found out that there were picturebook biographies written about these amazing women’s lives (in addition to the full-length biography in which the movie has been based), I knew I had to find them for our #WomenReadWomen2019 reading theme (check out Fats’ lovely review of Hidden Figures here.)

This story focuses primarily on Katherine Johnson, her precocity, her evident passion for maths, and the fact that she first worked as a teacher because there were few opportunities for an African American woman like her at the time, notwithstanding her evident talent and skill in her field – that is, not until the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA which later became known as NASA) started hiring African American women as mathematicians.

All the computers were women. They were given the tasks that men thought were boring and unimportant.

I believe it is worth noting that despite the fact that this was a very evident step-up for Katherine Johnson, this was only made possible because the men did not deem the job of a ‘computer’ ‘exciting’ or ‘adventurous’ enough of a job for them (** Note that a ‘computer’ is someone who calculated long series of numbers since electronic computers were not used at the time.**).

It was in NACA that Katherine found her ‘tribe’ of female computers who worked on the sidelines, often invisible, doing the necessary mathematical work to send the astronauts off into space.

I also found the image above to be particularly compelling, as it shows how Katherine who managed to solve the requisite but elusive equation to send the astronauts back home, was essentially disallowed from joining the tribe of men inside who cheered the successful operation on. I get that the entire narrative highlighted just the positive aspects of Katherine’s life while deliberately downplaying the many difficulties that Katherine endured – information which I know about mainly because I’ve seen the film. I felt that it was truly a shame that those important bits were left out of this picturebook biography, as it also contributed to her resilience, fortitude, and strength of character. Regardless, this is an important read that deserves to be in your children’s bookshelves.


#WomenReadWomen2019: Country – United States of America

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Singapore. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she serves as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads or meeting up with her book club friends, she is smashing that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life.

2 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] Katherine And Her Female Tribe Of “Computers”

  1. lindabaie

    I loved seeing her story in the movie, wonder why at least some of the challenges were left out, like that bathroom trek? Thanks for sharing, Myra.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this book too! It will be highlighted on one of my upcoming list posts.

    Liked by 1 person

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