Behind The Scenes With a Rocket Scientist Author
Updated: Mar 26, 2019
Get the real inside scoop on A COMPUTER CALLED KATHERINE from #19PBbios author Suzanne Slade.
By Suzanne Slade, author of A COMPUTER CALLED KATHERINE
I’m over-the-moon to share my new book — A COMPUTER CALLED KATHERINE: HOW KATHERINE JOHNSON HELPED PUT AMERICA ON THE MOON, illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison. Long before many people were introduced to Katherine Johnson by the Hidden Figures movie and book (2016), A COMPUTER CALLED KATHERINE had already been acquired by Little, Brown for Young Readers.
This beautiful book shares the compelling, true story of Katherine Johnson: child math prodigy, accomplished scholar who graduated from college at age 18, and NASA mathematician who made crucial contributions to space exploration.
As a mechanical engineer who worked on rockets, I wanted to make sure every detail in the text and illustrations were accurate. That meant years of research, interviews, and meticulous record keeping. (My “Sources Document” that lists the source for each number, fact, and quote is 32-pages long.)
I also wanted to help readers connect with Katherine — to get an authentic sense of her personality and beliefs. I decided the best way to do that was to share a few quotes so readers could hear Katherine express her thoughts in her own words.
For example, after Katherine was invited to join the prestigious space team she discovered women weren’t allowed in their group meetings. When she asked about the policy, the engineers explained, “Women don’t ever go to those.”
To which Katherine promptly responded, “Is there a law against it?”
Her clever response tells readers so much about Katherine — her confidence, grace, and determination. Her words were also very effective, because after that exchange she attended the group meetings.
Another great quote from Katherine appears in the back matter — “If you want to know, ask a question. There’s no such thing as a dumb question.” Imagine how Katherine’s empowering words will encourage today’s young people to speak up and find out what they want to know!
I’m grateful Veronica Jamison shared her remarkable talent with this project. Her thoughtful illustrations help readers understand Katherine’s passion for math, her determination, and her ground-breaking work. Her artwork conveys emotions in a powerful way, yet also accurately shares science details.
Just take a peek at the marvelous details in the illustration below: actual formulas Katherine used, her huge desk calculator, and a realistic sketch of the Apollo flight path. (Notice the spacecraft orbits Earth before heading to the moon, circles the moon before and after landing, and the moon moves during the several day mission?) Spectacular!
And check out this gorgeous spread of America’s first manned spaceflight with its vibrant ocean, rich space background, and adorable red parachute. Curious readers can also discover that the spacecraft soared 125 above Earth and landed 190 miles from the launch pad.
This stunning illustration also encourages budding scientists to ask questions. Notice how the rocket launches from Florida and a small capsule splashes down later? These details help critical thinkers investigate how rockets work (and discard used parts.)
Below is a photo of K. Johnson at her desk - one of the great “extras” in the book.
Katherine Johnson is an important pioneer and role model. It’s thrilling to think about how A COMPUTER CALLED KATHERINE might inspire young readers today.
★ “… compellingly told biography … An excellent way to introduce young readers to an African-American female mathematician who deserves to be remembered and celebrated.” — Kirkus Starred Review