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A Kirkus Reviews Best Middle Grade Book of 2019
“This rich volume is a national treasure.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Captivating, informative, and inspiring…Easy to follow and hard to put down.” —School Library Journal (starred review)
The inspiring autobiography of NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, who helped launch Apollo 11.
As a young girl, Katherine Johnson showed an exceptional aptitude for math. In school she quickly skipped ahead several grades and was soon studying complex equations with the support of a professor who saw great promise in her. But ability and opportunity did not always go hand in hand. As an African American and a girl growing up in an era of brutal racism and sexism, Katherine faced daily challenges. Still, she lived her life with her father’s words in mind: “You are no better than anyone else, and nobody else is better than you.”
In the early 1950s, Katherine was thrilled to join the organization that would become NASA. She worked on many of NASA’s biggest projects including the Apollo 11 mission that landed the first men on the moon.
Katherine Johnson’s story was made famous in the bestselling book and Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures. Now in Reaching for the Moon she tells her own story for the first time, in a lively autobiography that will inspire young readers everywhere.
African-American research mathematician and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Johnson, of Hidden Figures fame, imbues this narrative of the first half of her life with her daily realities in the segregated South. Stressing the importance of self-worth and education to black advancement, Johnson's parents struggled to ensure that all their children graduated from college. Gifted Johnson did so early, at age 18, and then taught math while embarking on marriage and motherhood. In 1953, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (predecessor of NASA) hired Johnson as a "computer" to perform mathematical calculations for engineers at Langley Aeronautical Laboratory. The impeccable quality of Johnson's work and the essential questions she asked led to special assignments, including hand-checking the early IBM computers' calculations for John Glenn's 1962 orbits of the Earth and work on the trajectory of the Apollo 11 lunar landing module, breaking cultural norms along the way. An epilogue covers the recognition and honors Johnson has received since 1969. Alternately warmly personal and coolly observant, Johnson is always clear in her explanations. Black-and-white photos illustrate this highly accessible memoir by a groundbreaking woman. Ages 10 up.