This edition of Margot Lee Shetterly’s acclaimed book is perfect for young readers. It is the powerful story of four African-American female mathematicians at NASA who helped achieve some of the greatest moments in our space program. Now a major motion picture starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, and Kevin Costner.
Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.
This book brings to life the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, who lived through the Civil Rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the movement for gender equality, and whose work forever changed the face of NASA and the country.
What We Thought:
I read this book aloud to Tori and Arthur during our Lockdown school sessions.
It was perfect for that, as no chapter was too long, and the text was engaging and interesting throughout.
The writing style and content level was perfect – it was clear and simple enough to understand, but not so dumbed down that I felt we missed out on anything important. If a big science word or something cropped up (which they did, it is a book partially about actual rocket science after all!), then it was used, and quickly explained in layman’s terms. This opened up plenty of opportunities for conversation and discussion and looking things up to expand our knowledge.
It also opened the kids’ eyes to the divisive world of 1950s/60s America in terms of race. They are aware of racism, what it is, and that it is still a thing, but the idea of it being such an accepted, national thing really baffled them. The book kept the balance just right, emphasising the importance of the women’s progress in terms of their gender and race in the workplace, without forgetting to set scene of the ‘outside world’ and the revolutionary race movement that was happening there as well.
Again, this led to further discussion and discovery whilst also being satisfactory and complete in and of itself.
I had previously seen the movie based on the book, which primarily focused on the Space Race era, and so I was somewhat surprised when the book itself started much before that. This is no bad thing, though, because seeing how everything advanced and developed was fascinating and kept even Arthur entranced.
There were photographs throughout which added to the text – putting faces to the names and further emphasising that it is about Real People and not just a story.
The kids were really engrossed in the Space Race as it went on, and there were out loud gasps and cheers when event happened. I’ve never seen them quite so happy with a non-fiction book – normally I get eye-rolls and sighs when I say it is time to read on, but they were actually requesting more of this and were disappointed when it ended!
I would say this would be perfect for readers aged 11+ to read alone and for ages 7+ when shard with an adult to help explain some of the concepts and ideas.
My Rating: 5/5*
Linking up with Read With Me over on Mama Mummy Mum: