#SurvivalStories2021 Binge-Read Book Series Books Early Readers Features Genre International Lifespan of a Reader Middle Grade Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Nonfiction Wednesday] A Series Of Katherine Johnson Biographies – Part 1 of 3

"Tell me where you want the man to land, and I'll tell you where to send him up." - Katherine Johnson.

Myra here.

We are delighted to dedicate our Wednesdays to featuring nonfiction titles, as per usual. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, when we can.

typorama 13

Our reading theme from July-September is Binge-Read: Book Series Marathon. We are expanding the range of this theme to include books that fit the following deliberately-nebulous criteria:

  1. Books that are part of an ongoing series
  2. Themed stories: books that are technically not part of a series, but fit a specific theme – e.g. intergenerational stories, nature-themed stories
  3. Short story collections
  4. Narratives of a similar genre
  5. Stories written by same author

I am thrilled to feature a series of picturebook biographies done on Katherine Johnson’s life. This is Part 1 of 3.


Counting The Stars (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome Illustrated by Raul Colon
Published by Simon Schuster / Paula Wiseman Books (2019)
ISBN: 9781534404755 (ISBN10: 1534404759). Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Two weeks ago, I was invited to serve as a Keynote Speaker for a virtual conference on gifted education in Milan, Italy. I curated a set of picturebook biographies depicting women in STEM, and this was one of the books I featured.

Screenshot 2021-06-18 at 10.24.01 AM

Katherine Johnson was born in 1918 in West Virginia, was the first African American woman to integrate West Virginia University’s graduate program in math in 1940 and started working at Langley in 1953. Yet, it was only when the film Hidden Figures was shown in 2016 that more people actually came to know about this astounding woman known as a “computer” and her significant contributions to what was known as the Space Race between the US and Russia in the 1940s.

Screenshot 2021-06-18 at 10.26.35 AM

This picturebook biography focused on Katherine’s early life, how she was supported by her family, and how despite her brilliance and receiving a full scholarship at the age of 15 in West Virginia State Institute, she still had very limited options when it comes to job prospects.

Her college professor provided Katherine a customized curriculum in class and claimed that she would make a good research mathematician. However, when Katherine asked where she will find a job, her Professor responded: “That will be your problem.” I included the image above because the poster beside Katherine cleverly surfaces how there were multiple opportunities open to young boys, while jobs were few and far between for women, even more so for highly qualified, brilliant women of color.

Screenshot 2021-06-18 at 10.26.53 AM

When Katherine was hired at Langley, she chose to ignore the deplorable segregated working conditions and the fact that women were perceived as less capable than men, while the men continued to rely on the women computers to do most of their job for them: the irony was lost on them, at the time, I suppose. I love the image above because it showed how Katherine Johnson steadfastly ignored the rules that women were not supposed to sit at the table in meetings with men, and quietly and purposefully demanded that she attend the meetings to be able to do her job well, and she did.

The fact that this book was only published in 2019 suggests that more remains to be done to support young women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – most especially outstanding young women of color.

#SurvivalStories2021 Update: 69 out of target 100

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. 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 served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. 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, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

5 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] A Series Of Katherine Johnson Biographies – Part 1 of 3

  1. Completely Full Bookshelf

    This sounds like such a great read! I remember seeing the film Hidden Figures a few years ago, and while I have since learned that they fictionalized the story in some problematic ways, it was nevertheless amazing to learn about Katherine Johnson and how, through sheer determination, she overcame discrimination and used every last bit of her immense smarts to change the world! This book sounds like an excellent depiction of her life, and I appreciate you sharing this thoughtful review of it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: [Nonfiction Wednesday] A Series Of Katherine Johnson Biographies – Part 2 of 3 – Gathering Books

  3. Pingback: [Nonfiction Wednesday] A Series Of Katherine Johnson Biographies – Part 3 of 3 – Gathering Books

  4. Pingback: [Nonfiction Wednesday] A Postscript to the Series of Katherine Johnson Biographies – Gathering Books

  5. Pingback: [Nonfiction Wednesday] The Story of the First African American Woman In Space – Gathering Books

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