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Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13

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The story of Katherine Johnson, an African-American mathematician who worked for NASA during the space race and was depicted in the book and film Hidden Figures. You've likely heard of the historic Apollo 13 moon landing. But do you know about the mathematical genius who made sure that Apollo 13 returned safely home? As a child, Katherine Johnson loved to count. She counted The story of Katherine Johnson, an African-American mathematician who worked for NASA during the space race and was depicted in the book and film Hidden Figures. You've likely heard of the historic Apollo 13 moon landing. But do you know about the mathematical genius who made sure that Apollo 13 returned safely home? As a child, Katherine Johnson loved to count. She counted the steps on the road, the number of dishes and spoons she washed in the kitchen sink, everything! Boundless, curious, and excited by calculations, young Katherine longed to know as much as she could about math, about the universe. From Katherine's early beginnings as a gifted student to her heroic accomplishments as a prominent mathematician at NASA, this is the story of a groundbreaking American woman who not only calculated the course of moon landings but, in turn, saved lives and made enormous contributions to history.


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The story of Katherine Johnson, an African-American mathematician who worked for NASA during the space race and was depicted in the book and film Hidden Figures. You've likely heard of the historic Apollo 13 moon landing. But do you know about the mathematical genius who made sure that Apollo 13 returned safely home? As a child, Katherine Johnson loved to count. She counted The story of Katherine Johnson, an African-American mathematician who worked for NASA during the space race and was depicted in the book and film Hidden Figures. You've likely heard of the historic Apollo 13 moon landing. But do you know about the mathematical genius who made sure that Apollo 13 returned safely home? As a child, Katherine Johnson loved to count. She counted the steps on the road, the number of dishes and spoons she washed in the kitchen sink, everything! Boundless, curious, and excited by calculations, young Katherine longed to know as much as she could about math, about the universe. From Katherine's early beginnings as a gifted student to her heroic accomplishments as a prominent mathematician at NASA, this is the story of a groundbreaking American woman who not only calculated the course of moon landings but, in turn, saved lives and made enormous contributions to history.

30 review for Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13

  1. 4 out of 5

    LauraW

    This is Hidden Figures for the younger set and is well worth its while. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, but I think this book is even better at giving a coherent picture of how Katherine Johnson did what she did. If there is any critique I would make about the book, it would be that it doesn't make quite a big enough point about both the sexism and racism that she faced. Nevertheless, I would highly recommend it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    A neat children’s story book about Katherine Johnson. She was a black, female mathematician who joined NASA and played an integral part in various space missions, including getting the Apollo 13 astronauts back on track. I had never heard of her before, but it’s a great story!

  3. 5 out of 5

    KC

    A well written biography about Katherine Johnson, her work with NASA, and how she saved Apollo 13 ("Houston, we have a problem"). Read along with Hidden Figures.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Karen Upper

    What a brilliant, approachable story! the author's succinct phrasing coupled with the fabulous illustrations by Dow Phumiruk are a perfect pairing in allowing young readers to grasp the momentous importance of this woman! Not only did she open the door for Afro-American women, but for all women in the workplace! What an empowering narrative! Thank you for gifting young readers with empowerment! Kudos!🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 Highly recommended for elementary school and public libraries!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Claudia

    Another book for my NBCT renewal project. And this one has a direct link to adult nonfiction with HIDDEN FIGURES. Katherine was a little girl who had to count everything...she excelled in school, and her father made sure she could get the best education an African American girl could get in the south. She went to work for NACA, the forerunner for NASA, in the only job a woman could do: computing. These women were literally the computers of the operation. With paper and pencils, on adding machine Another book for my NBCT renewal project. And this one has a direct link to adult nonfiction with HIDDEN FIGURES. Katherine was a little girl who had to count everything...she excelled in school, and her father made sure she could get the best education an African American girl could get in the south. She went to work for NACA, the forerunner for NASA, in the only job a woman could do: computing. These women were literally the computers of the operation. With paper and pencils, on adding machines, they launched the Mercury Project, and Katherine was instrumental in bringing Apollo 13 back to earth. This and the book about Sophie Germain are the kinds of inspirations girls need to see themselves in STEM if that's their passion. The book doesn't shy away from the difficulties Katherine faced...but it shows how important her life of service was to her. Love the picture of her in her wheelchair, with her Presidential Medal of Freedom around her neck. A mighty girl, for sure.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    First sentence: Katherine loved to count. She counted the steps to the road. The steps up to church. The number of dishes and spoons she washed in the bright white sink. The only thing she didn't count were the stars in the sky. Only a fool, she thought, would try that! Even so the stars sparked her imagination. What was out there? Premise/plot: Counting on Katherine is a picture book biography of Katherine Johnson. Part of Johnson's story was told in the adult biography Hidden Figures by Margot First sentence: Katherine loved to count. She counted the steps to the road. The steps up to church. The number of dishes and spoons she washed in the bright white sink. The only thing she didn't count were the stars in the sky. Only a fool, she thought, would try that! Even so the stars sparked her imagination. What was out there? Premise/plot: Counting on Katherine is a picture book biography of Katherine Johnson. Part of Johnson's story was told in the adult biography Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. (Hidden Figures also tells the story of other human computers, women who worked alongside Katherine Johnson. This is the book that inspired the film of the same name.) Both the movie and book were fabulous. It isn't a surprise that someone would want to adapt the story for a younger audience. It is a WONDERFUL story. My thoughts: I really loved this one. The narrative is lovely. The illustrations are just as lovely. It's a compelling story and one that could inspire readers of all ages. Text: 5 out of 5 Illustrations: 5 out of 5 Total: 10 out of 10

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    This is a wonderfully drawn, informative, accessible children's biography on a remarkable pioneering lady! Truly, this is an inspiring biography that will resonate with children who yearn for knowledge.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    So nice to see a biography at an accessible reading level!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Gray

    Preschool STEAM: math, space This will be an awesome book to read aloud to my Preschool STEAM kids or to an elementary school class.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Desiree Sotomayor

    I really liked the flow of this one & design. Everyone's heard of Apollo 13, although Katherine Johnson is probably someone not too many folks know, which needs to change!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tasha

    Katherine loved counting and math as a young girl. She was a brilliant student who skipped three grades. However, there was no high school in her town that accepted black students. So her father worked day and night to afford to move them to a town where Katherine could attend high school. She became an elementary school teacher, because there were no jobs for research mathematicians who were women. Katherine did not give up her dream, eventually becoming a mathematician working for NASA. She wo Katherine loved counting and math as a young girl. She was a brilliant student who skipped three grades. However, there was no high school in her town that accepted black students. So her father worked day and night to afford to move them to a town where Katherine could attend high school. She became an elementary school teacher, because there were no jobs for research mathematicians who were women. Katherine did not give up her dream, eventually becoming a mathematician working for NASA. She worked on the Mercury missions and the Apollo missions, doing the math that allowed the Apollo 13 astronauts to return safely. Filled with the determination and resilience it took for Johnson to become a NASA mathematician, this picture book shows the barriers that were and are in place for scientists and mathematicians who are women and people of color. Make sure to check out the note at the end that provides even more information on this incredible mathematician. The art in the book is incredibly appealing with mathematics adding complexity to the simple style. A picture book biography that soars to great heights. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mireille Messier

    A passion for numbers and a strong will to persevere in the face of seemingly impossible hurdles are what make the story of mathematician Katherine Johnson such a compelling biography. Author Helaine Becker really knocks it out of the park with a clear, concise and kid-friendly retelling of Katherine Johnson's fascinating life. Clever math-filled illustrations by Dow Phumiruk are the icing on the cake. An absolute must for every household and elementary classroom!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Kennar

    So hard to believe that up until a few years ago, with the release of the film Hidden Figures, most of us had never heard of Katherine Johnson. My son and I enjoyed it, and it now sits on his shelf near his books about Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sunday Cummins

    Easy to read aloud in the primary grades. Students will pick up on the repeating line, "You can count on me" which serves to reveal one of the main ideas in this book--that Katherine Johnson played a critical role in the success of NACA/NASA's early space exploration. I'd read this aloud to students for enjoyment and then read aloud again and pose questions for students to turn and discuss in small groups. Questions like - *How does the author show that Katherine Johnson was determined to become Easy to read aloud in the primary grades. Students will pick up on the repeating line, "You can count on me" which serves to reveal one of the main ideas in this book--that Katherine Johnson played a critical role in the success of NACA/NASA's early space exploration. I'd read this aloud to students for enjoyment and then read aloud again and pose questions for students to turn and discuss in small groups. Questions like - *How does the author show that Katherine Johnson was determined to become a professional mathematician? *What were obstacles Johnson (and her family) faced? How did she overcome those? *Would you describe Johnson as perseverant? Why? *How does the author's repeated use of the response "Count on me" help develop a big idea in this book? *How do the illustrations contribute to understanding the details in the text? Another strength of this book was the author's explanation of the kind of mathematics that Johnson did for NASA. I've read several books now about the "computers" at NASA, women who did mathematics for the agency (in its early days) and the authors frequently fail to explain the mathematics or the purpose of the mathematics (other than "it helped NASA") in a way that young children can understand. Young children may wonder why 2+2 is a big deal, you know? Becker, the author, and Phumiruk, the illustrator, have a great two page layout explaining very simply how and why math was helpful in sending a rocket into space. They use the analogy of throwing a ball up-- "But as it runs out, the ball's path curves back toward the ground. Where it lands depends on what angle it was thrown and how high and how fast it flew. Because math is a kind of language, Katherine could ask those questions--how high would the rocket ship go and how fast would it travel?--using numbers..." With Becker & Phumiruk's simple explanation and illustration, students in the primary grades can begin to grasp the value of Johnson's work. After reading aloud the book, reread just these two pages and use this as a jumping off point for a hands-on experiment as part of an integrated approach, using math and thinking about forces and motion. Lots of potential while learning about a very important person.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    Having loved the film Hidden Figures enough to have bought the book that tells the story of Katherine Johnson's involvement in the space race, I was thrilled to find this picture book. Since it covers some of the similar territory from the film and then goes even further, readers will be immersed in the world of numbers and calculations so loved by Katherine even from a young age. Not only does the book tell about her formative years and her schooling but her job as a computer at NASA. Eventuall Having loved the film Hidden Figures enough to have bought the book that tells the story of Katherine Johnson's involvement in the space race, I was thrilled to find this picture book. Since it covers some of the similar territory from the film and then goes even further, readers will be immersed in the world of numbers and calculations so loved by Katherine even from a young age. Not only does the book tell about her formative years and her schooling but her job as a computer at NASA. Eventually, of course, it would be her calculations that would guide the space craft Apollo XIII homeward when it experienced problems while in flight. Created digitally with Adobe Photoshop and watercolor and texture scans, the illustrations are filled with mathematical formulas and equations that come to life through the artist's hands. I am thrilled to see this woman receive so much well-deserved attention and be able to share this book with my students since Katherine Johnson clearly broke barriers. I do agree with another reviewer who suggested that the sexism and racism she faced were touched on rather lightly, and it might have been valuable for young readers to learn more about how she dealt with them. Still, her achievements stand on their own merit, and this is a wonderful book for a collection about mathematicians and ground-breakers.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Margie

    With the reading of each picture book biography, our lives are enriched. For now, even if we had heard of the selected individual previously, we know more. We understand their youth. We understand those who supported them in following their passions and goals. We understand the obstacles they overcame. We understand the power of a single dedicated and determined individual. On November 24, 2015 President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Freedom to Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who worked With the reading of each picture book biography, our lives are enriched. For now, even if we had heard of the selected individual previously, we know more. We understand their youth. We understand those who supported them in following their passions and goals. We understand the obstacles they overcame. We understand the power of a single dedicated and determined individual. On November 24, 2015 President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Freedom to Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who worked at NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) during the historical time period when Americans first went to space. Her contributions are immeasurable. Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt And Company, June 19, 2018) written by Helaine Becker with illustrations by Dow Phumiruk is an informative and moving tribute to an extraordinary woman. My full recommendation: http://librariansquest.blogspot.com/2...

  17. 4 out of 5

    Gabriella Balbo

    1. N/A 2. Kindergarten-2nd Grade 3. This Life story about Katherine Johnson will have all the students dreaming big. It is a colorful and interesting book about the mathematical genius who made sure Apollo 13 returned home safely. Katherine took her love of math and counting and applied it to help make a difference in peoples lives. Ultimately leaving her mark on history. 4. This book has great illustrations that help depict Katherine's accomplished life. It teaches young children a great lesson t 1. N/A 2. Kindergarten-2nd Grade 3. This Life story about Katherine Johnson will have all the students dreaming big. It is a colorful and interesting book about the mathematical genius who made sure Apollo 13 returned home safely. Katherine took her love of math and counting and applied it to help make a difference in peoples lives. Ultimately leaving her mark on history. 4. This book has great illustrations that help depict Katherine's accomplished life. It teaches young children a great lesson that you can take what you love to do to make a difference in peoples lives. 5. Writing Lesson- Have the students write about their favorite subjects and what they love about it and how it can make a difference in peoples lives even if it is a something difference.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Tournas

    This is a great picture book biography of Katherine Johnson, one of the African-American women hired as “computers” at NASA in the 1960’s, and whose character is featured in the movie Hidden Figures. I love how the book emphasizes her love of school, especially math, and how she persevered in her education and goal of working as a mathematician. I also like that the author does not shy away from the racism that Johnson experienced in her life. The digital illustrations are charming and portray This is a great picture book biography of Katherine Johnson, one of the African-American women hired as “computers” at NASA in the 1960’s, and whose character is featured in the movie Hidden Figures. I love how the book emphasizes her love of school, especially math, and how she persevered in her education and goal of working as a mathematician. I also like that the author does not shy away from the racism that Johnson experienced in her life. The digital illustrations are charming and portray Johnson and her family and NASA with enough information to help kids see how the times were different. Back matter includes additional information and sources. The end papers are full of computations which are fun to contemplate.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jillian

    Great book, (slightly) misleading title. The book is 32 pages long, if you count the note at the end, and Apollo 13 appears on page 23 and lasts 5 pages. The book is much more about Katherine Johnson's life and career as a whole, and while Apollo 13 was a HUGE deal and she deserves all the credit possible (where was she in the movie, Ron Howard???) I don't think it's fair to say this book is "about" her saving Apollo 13 when it's really a biography. End of soapbox. Katherine Johnson is amazing, th Great book, (slightly) misleading title. The book is 32 pages long, if you count the note at the end, and Apollo 13 appears on page 23 and lasts 5 pages. The book is much more about Katherine Johnson's life and career as a whole, and while Apollo 13 was a HUGE deal and she deserves all the credit possible (where was she in the movie, Ron Howard???) I don't think it's fair to say this book is "about" her saving Apollo 13 when it's really a biography. End of soapbox. Katherine Johnson is amazing, the illustrations are pretty cool, and it was neat to learn more about her career after the Mercury program.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Darlene

    I was given an ARC of this delightful picture book and am so glad I got to read it! The author does a wonderful job engaging young readers from page one regarding one of the "Hidden Figures" behind the scenes during the US space travel era. It's a great introduction to the math and science involved in space flight and how one woman - Katherine Johnson - brought astronauts safely back home from their orbits around the earth. An excellent and entertaining addition to STEM curriculum in the classro I was given an ARC of this delightful picture book and am so glad I got to read it! The author does a wonderful job engaging young readers from page one regarding one of the "Hidden Figures" behind the scenes during the US space travel era. It's a great introduction to the math and science involved in space flight and how one woman - Katherine Johnson - brought astronauts safely back home from their orbits around the earth. An excellent and entertaining addition to STEM curriculum in the classroom.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jana

    This awesome picture book biography tells the inspiring story of Katherine Johnson, a research mathematician who was an instrumental part of our country's space program during the race to the moon. Johnson was a bright little girl who overcame obstacles such as gender and race discrimination in order to become a prominent mathematician at NASA. Beautifully illustrated and engaging narrative text, along with more information in an author's note, make this a nice nonfiction resource to add to your This awesome picture book biography tells the inspiring story of Katherine Johnson, a research mathematician who was an instrumental part of our country's space program during the race to the moon. Johnson was a bright little girl who overcame obstacles such as gender and race discrimination in order to become a prominent mathematician at NASA. Beautifully illustrated and engaging narrative text, along with more information in an author's note, make this a nice nonfiction resource to add to your bookshelf. This could also be a great starting point for further research for young students.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sheri

    What a great way to introduce Katherine Johnson and math as a valuable skill to have. This picture book goes beyond the movie "Hidden Figures" and tells something of Mary's early life and what she achieved as an adult. And ends with Katherine's success with the NASA space program. More of an older picture book with detail and facts and what Katherine did to solve the problem of getting the astronauts home from space. Makes a factual source for kids in upper middle elementary working on topics fo What a great way to introduce Katherine Johnson and math as a valuable skill to have. This picture book goes beyond the movie "Hidden Figures" and tells something of Mary's early life and what she achieved as an adult. And ends with Katherine's success with the NASA space program. More of an older picture book with detail and facts and what Katherine did to solve the problem of getting the astronauts home from space. Makes a factual source for kids in upper middle elementary working on topics for reports about famous Americans.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amy Lafleur

    Katherine loved to count but won't count stars in sky. Nevertheless the stars fascinate Katherine. She's super curious and smart, but faces challenges due to her skin color and through being female. This picture book biography focuses on Katherine's persistence to become a mathematician and how her calculations saved Apollo 13. Katherine's persistence and determination comes through in the repetition of "count on me" throughout the book. Helaine Becker also includes more information about Kather Katherine loved to count but won't count stars in sky. Nevertheless the stars fascinate Katherine. She's super curious and smart, but faces challenges due to her skin color and through being female. This picture book biography focuses on Katherine's persistence to become a mathematician and how her calculations saved Apollo 13. Katherine's persistence and determination comes through in the repetition of "count on me" throughout the book. Helaine Becker also includes more information about Katherine Johnson.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    Brings the inspiring story of Katherine Johnson to children. One of the strengths of this book is the way Katherine's love of math and learning in general is celebrated. Katherine Johnson's humble spirit really shines through here. My one quibble is that I don't think the depth of the racism and sexism she overcame comes through as strongly as I would like. Still, an excellent picture book biography of this admirable and remarkable woman.

  25. 5 out of 5

    A Allen

    This is a really cute story that gives insight into Katherine's childhood as well as some of the technical aspects of her work as NASA. I like that the book doesn't shy away from explaining some of the science and even uses a ball as an example to help readers understand and imagine. I like the illustrations as well. However, some of the pages have blocks of text which might be too much for younger audiences. I would recommend it for children older than my students.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    A great and inspiring story about Katherine Johnson's love of math, her drive to learn and her role in the NASA space program, most famously Apollo 13. It may be a great precursor to watching the film Hidden Figures. This is a wonderful picture book for kids, especially girls, about having a dream, working hard for it, including through detours, and the work involved in having a really important job, where lives do actually depend on you. I was struck by her confidence - that's inspirational.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cornmaven

    Excellent picture book bio of Katherine Johnson of Hidden Figures fame, how she was instrumental in the Apollo 13 incident, as well as her importance throughout the space race. Until Hidden Figures, we really didn't know about her. I am glad we do now. Ron Howard needs to back and edit her into his movie.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Madelyn Panganis

    Genre: Biography Grade Level: K-5 with different applications Unique Feature: I loved how Helaine Becker incorporated Katherine Johnson life story from a young age into a book that students could read and understand. The illustrations were beautiful and helped connect the complex story the story to a younger audience.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jocelin

    This is a great tie-in book to the movie Hidden Figures. I am absolutely in awe of Katherine Johnson. To know that someone like her was not recognized until much later in life is very sad. Her achievement is nothing short of miraculous. I am so glad that more people are learning about her. She will be an inspiration to countless young minds to explore the outer reaches of space and beyond.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cheriee Weichel

    Helaine Becker's narrative tells the story of Katherine Johnson. This brilliant black woman overcame numerous obstacles to become an important person in the NASA Space program. I ended up rereading this book in order to fully appreciate Dow Phumiruk's gorgeous illustrations. They bring Katherine to life and make the book shine!

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