STARRED REVIEW: "A picture-book biography of a humble genius who excelled in a career once out of reach for most African-Americans.
The 2016 film Hidden Figures tells the story of three black women who began working as human computers in the early 1950s for the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, which later became NASA. This book focuses on the life of one of those women, Katherine Johnson. From an early age, Katherine loved numbers and counted everything. Skipping three grades in school, Katherine was ready for high school at age 10, but her hometown in West Virginia allowed only white students to attend the high school. Her family moved to Institute, West Virginia, to enable Katherine to attend a black high school—from which she graduated at 14. Becker emphasizes Katherine’s tenacity, competence, creativity, and intellectual curiosity as she gains the trust of the astronauts whose safety and success depended on the work of the human computers. Phumiruk’s stylistically varied, colorful illustrations feature mathematical computations and notes in the backgrounds, emphasizing Katherine’s passion for numbers. Becker makes good use of the title, playing on different forms of the word “count” throughout the story, as when Katherine says, “Count on me” to calculate the Apollo’s flight paths.
An excellent biography that will inspire young readers, especially girls, to do what they love" - Kirkus Starred Review
"Featuring engaging text and captivating illustrations, this picture book introduces the amazing life of mathematician Katherine Johnson to young readers. Becker captures the drive and determination of Johnson through well-written text and a few puns; for instance, the phrase “You can count on me” is repeated by Johnson and once by her father. The narrative details both Johnson’s joyful childhood and her fury at segregated public schools; however, in discussing the challenges Johnson faced at NASA, Becker mainly focuses on sexism. The text doesn’t mention segregation at NASA, but it is portrayed in the illustrations. Becker compellingly conveys Johnson’s reputation for accuracy and her ¬critical -leadership role supporting many NASA programs, including Friendship 7, Apollo 11, Apollo 12, and Apollo 13. John Glenn would not fly until Johnson had signed off on the numbers for his trip. Phumiruk’s renderings help to elucidate scientific principles and bring the story to life. In addition, the images of blackboards teeming with mathematical equations that appear on the endpapers add to the book’s appeal. The work concludes with additional in-depth information about Johnson’s life along with a list of sources. VERDICT Sure to inspire a new generation of mathematicians. A solid addition to biography collections." - School Library Journal
"Counting on Katherine is a beautifully written biographical picture book about Katherine Johnson, NASA mathematician and all-around inspirational woman. Author Helaine Becker spoke with Katherine and her family in order to write this inspiring book which tells of a real little girl who didn’t let anything get in the way of pursuing her dream and who earned the trust and respect of everyone she met along the way. It is wonderful to see a biography written for this age group – the tone effortlessly blends fact with engaging language. The takeaways from the book are that much more powerful when you can relate it to an actual person’s lived experience. Children who are fascinated by space, by numbers, or by the universe in general can learn from Katherine’s life and explore new facets of these topics in her honour.
Dow Phumiruk’s illustrations are striking – full of colour and movement. Created digitally, using scans of watercolours and textures, the images are richly multi-dimensional. The scenery is vivid, the human figures are realistic but smooth around the edges, and the subtle inclusion of graphs, equations, and formulas throughout adds an element of surprise.
Counting on Katherine opens up a dialogue about race, perseverance, history, and equality. It is written with a focus on storytelling, but it is able to convey a lot of information about its central figure. It is great as an introduction to the biography genre for the young and curious, but it’s also just fun to read and explore space travel from the eyes of those who look up from the ground floor.
Recommended." - CM Magazine
"Children who want to share in the Hidden Figures buzz can start right here with a picture book biography of Katherine Johnson, who with the help of her determined parents leapt hurdle after hurdle in a racially separate and unequal educational system. After graduating college, she secured work at NACA (NASA’s forerunner) as a “computer” (as the humans who worked out the figures were known) in the opening years of the space race and eventually became so valued a team leader that John Glenn “refused to fly unless Katherine okayed the numbers.” Although Johnson’s contribution to the high-pressure rescue of the Apollo 13 crew is the climax here, the overall story is one of major historical developments: women mathematicians breaking into a men’s field; Black scientists breaking into a white science world; “computers” signifying humans with calculators; pioneering space journeys undertaken with a knowledge base and skillset that today seem unthinkably scant. Phumiruk’s digital artwork convincingly portrays Johnson as brainy and imaginative, in keeping with the author note observation that “her role . . . always involved more than mere number crunching. It relied heavily on hunches.” That combination of math and intuition also emerges visually in several embedded graphics that assist readers in understanding the trajectories Johnson calculated. This title is ready made for “My Hero” biography reports. A list of adult sources is included."
- Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books