CM Magazine: Counting on Katherine.
________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 32. . . .April 20, 2018


Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13.

Helaine Becker. Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk.
New York, NY: Henry Holt (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), June, 2018.
32 pp., hardcover, $23.50.
ISBN 978-1-250-13752-4.

Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 3-7.

Review by Amber Allen.

***½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



The only things 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?
Katherine burned to know as much as she could about numbers, about the universe – about everything!


From a very early age, Katherine Johnson was bright and inquisitive. Her aptitude for learning even meant skipping three grades and being ready for high school at age 10! Clever and determined all her life, she was sadly held back by the institutionalized racism of her time. But! Katherine waited patiently, dedicated herself to her passions, and worked very, very hard and eventually landed a job in the American space program as a mathematician. She quickly made a name for herself as someone who asked the right questions and always made accurate calculations, and this made her the most trusted mathematician for astronauts heading into space. Her toughest challenge? Guiding Apollo 13 back to Earth after a devastating explosion in space!

      Counting on Katherine is a beautifully written biographical picture book about Katherine Johnson, NASA mathematician and all-around inspirational woman. Author Helaine Becker spoke with Katherine and her family in order to write this inspiring book which tells of a real little girl who didn’t let anything get in the way of pursuing her dream and who earned the trust and respect of everyone she met along the way. It is wonderful to see a biography written for this age group – the tone effortlessly blends fact with engaging language. The takeaways from the book are that much more powerful when you can relate it to an actual person’s lived experience. Children who are fascinated by space, by numbers, or by the universe in general can learn from Katherine’s life and explore new facets of these topics in her honour.

      Dow Phumiruk’s illustrations are striking – full of colour and movement. Created digitally, using scans of watercolours and textures, the images are richly multi-dimensional. The scenery is vivid, the human figures are realistic but smooth around the edges, and the subtle inclusion of graphs, equations, and formulas throughout adds an element of surprise.

     Counting on Katherine opens up a dialogue about race, perseverance, history, and equality. It is written with a focus on storytelling, but it is able to convey a lot of information about its central figure. It is great as an introduction to the biography genre for the young and curious, but it’s also just fun to read and explore space travel from the eyes of those who look up from the ground floor.


Amber Allen is a librarian in Guelph, ON, with a passion for children’s literature and writing.

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