Review of One Step Further, by Katherine Johnson, illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow

One Step Further

My Story of Math, the Moon, and a Lifelong Mission

by Katherine Johnson
with her daughters Joylette Hylick and Katherine Moore
illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow

National Geographic Kids, 2021. 48 pages.
Review written January 5, 2022, from my own copy
Starred Review

Here’s a wonderful picture book biography that tells about the groundbreaking life of Katherine Johnson and weaves in the experiences of her three daughters growing up with her example.

The book uses photographs and artifacts from Katherine’s life to give wonderful visuals, giving a taste of the times. The daughters are pictured with speech bubbles giving commentary on the artifacts and the main text, effectively pulling the reader into the story with child guides.

Segregation affected Katherine’s life, and it also affected her daughters’ lives. When she moved in order to find a job that used her talents, her children experienced segregation. But I also like that when she became a human computer for NACA, there were many other college-educated African-American women working there (segregated from the white computers). The kids are pictured saying about that:

Our neighborhood was full of smart and stylish Black women mathematicians. At church, at school pickups, at summer cookouts, in our kitchen.

They took such pride in their jobs and looked so perfect every day. We didn’t know quite what they did, but we wanted to be like them.

The theme of “one step further” is carried through the book, as Katherine continued to push to go one step further. Her daughter Kathy also went one step further by participating in sit-ins to protest racial segregation.

The book progresses through to Katherine’s important work on the moon launch and how John Glenn asked Katherine to check the math of the mechanical computer before he was willing to take off.

I like the page at the back that tells how NASA named a building and then an entire facility after Katherine. It also tells how her daughters followed in her footsteps, with one working for NASA and the other two working as teachers.

There are ten pages of detailed historical notes after the main story, so older kids intrigued by this can learn how they can find out more. This biography is put together in a wonderfully inviting package.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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