Our Winning Book Synopsis
Our 2019 Giverny winner tells the story of Katherine Johnson and how her mathematical skills saved the Apollo 13 mission.
Even as a little girl, Katherine Johnson loved to count. She counted everything except for the multitude of stars in the sky—although the stars still captured her imagination. She was a bright student and skipped three grades in school. Since America was segregated, her father had to find a job in a different city so that Katherine could attend a black high school.
After graduation Katherine taught in an elementary school until the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics began to hire new employees. Katherine eventually got a position as a human computer. She was one of the women who spent her days asking questions, calculating numbers, and plotting graphs so that the rocket ships could launch and return safely. She was so good at her job that astronaut John Glenn asked that Katherine check the numbers for the Mercury mission. By then, the NACA was part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA.
NASA promoted Katherine and she worked on the Apollo missions. When Apollo 13 had an explosion in space, NASA turned to Katherine Johnson. Katherine worked furiously and made precise calculations about the path of the rocket and its fuel. Because of her calculations, the astronauts were able to return safely to Earth.
Author Helaine Becker has penned more than 80 books, and writes for children’s magazines. She has toured three times for the Canadian Children’s Book Week. Dow Phumiruk is a former pediatrician who rediscovered her artistic talents—and has won numerous awards in the Society for Children’s Book Writers.
Several science concepts are included in Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 including trajectories of balls and rockets, gravity, space exploration, and the importance of mathematics in science. The Giverny committee also recognized that Counting on Katherine offered a historical glimpse into a segregated country and how one African American woman succeeded in spite of these barriers.