Counting on Katherine


Katherine Johnson spent her life counting. Whether it be the steps to school or church, or the number of years she leapt in school because of her abilities and hard work, counting was deep within her. Although there were no high school opportunities for black girls in her township, her father’s hard work meant the family moved to a town where Katherine could continue to study. At the end of this, she took up primary school teaching, one of the few careers for able learners. However, always numbers burned through her.

Therefore, when she heard that the National Advisory Council on Aeronautics sought human computers to chart its space programmes, she applied. Furthermore, her abilities and effort led her to racing through the ranks so that leading astronauts like John Glenn trusted her calculations beyond any other to ensure safe travel to and from Space.

Counting on Katherine is a story of a remarkable woman in a different time. We learn about Katherine Johnson’s effort, setbacks, achievements and legacy. Furthermore, we realise what she means to our lives and understanding. Helaine Becker’s wonderful text, with careful repetition and studious sequencing enthral us through this biography. I love the way that Dow Phumiruk’s pictures with their variety of perspective and almost Newsweek approach explain the story. Counting on Katherine is a necessary story for home and school readers.

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Counting on Katherine

How Katherine Johnson Put Astronauts on the Moon

Helaine Becker, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

(Pan Macmillan)

It seems that Counting on Katherine is what happens throughout Katherine Johnson’s life. In her early days, she counts the dishes in the sink and steps to church. Thereafter, her mathematical skills lead her to skip years as a star student at school. Furthermore, her counting skills mean her family must move to a high school that takes black students. Thenceforth she takes a job as a primary school teacher, one of the few jobs available to women.
When Katherine reads that the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) is looking for ‘computers’ she waits until there’s a post for her. Katherine’s ‘accuracy and strong leadership skills‘ see her promoted to support the programme to send ‘the first American astronauts into space’. Although dangerous work, star astronaut John Glenn refuses to fly unless Katherine tackles the numbers.  We hear, ‘You can count on me‘ throughout this story.
No more so than during the Apollo 13 mission detailed in Survival in Space were Katherine’s human computer skills depended upon. It seems that Katherine’s careful calculations were responsible to charting the course of the beleaguered craft back to Earth. . ,
Counting on Katherine is a fascinating biography. We realise Katherine Johnson’s talents, determination and legacy, alongside the time through which she lived and worked.

UKLA Award Winning Information Book 


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