A Computer Called Katherine (+ Giveaway)

Today I’m over-the-moon to announce the release of my new book (March 12) — A COMPUTER CALLED KATHERINE: HOW KATHERINE JOHNSON HELPED PUT AMERICA ON THE MOON, illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison.

Long before the Hidden Figures movie and book (2016) introduced many people to Katherine Johnson, A COMPUTER CALLED KATHERINE had already been acquired by Little, Brown for Young Readers.

Now that it’s finally releasing, I can’t wait to share this gloriously illustrated picture book about Katherine Johnson: child math prodigy, accomplished scholar who graduated from college at age 18, and NASA mathematician who made crucial contributions to space exploration.

I’m grateful Veronica Jamison shared her remarkable talent with this book. Her thoughtful illustrations help readers understand Katherine’s passion for math, her determination, and her groundbreaking work.

Her artwork also conveys emotions in a powerful way, yet also accurately shares science details.

Just take a peek at the marvelous details in this illustration: 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 the vibrant ocean, rich space background, and adorable red parachute. Curious readers can also discover that the spacecraft soared 125 above Earth. Love it!

This beautiful 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.)

Let’s find out about the phenomenal artist behind these illustrations as Veronica answers a few questions about her work on A COMPUTER CALLED KATHERINE — her very first picture book!

1. What about Katherine Johnson’s incredible life and accomplishments inspired you as you worked on this project?

Just about everything! I tend to be fascinated by people who have lived their lives exploring and mastering a particular subject. Katherine’s early fascination with math and her journey with it throughout her life became the basis of my inspiration. We know that Katherine became this incredible mathematical mind for NASA, but she got there by being a little kid who was just incredibly curious about numbers. That was the nugget of inspiration that carried me throughout the book.


2. Your illustrations are engaging, creative, and powerful!

The scientific nature of this book made it an especially daunting project particularly for a first picture book. It’s obvious you did extensive research on the spacecraft and flight trajectories, as well details like clothing and hair styles. Were there any surprises or challenges during your research?

Thank you so much! One challenge was mapping Katherine’s career progression over the changes that NASA itself went through. For example, there’s a spread showing Katherine early in her career working at Langley, and we had to figure out – what exactly was the name of the campus? What logo would have been on the hangar? And what kind of aircraft would they have been working on at the time? The team at Little, Brown worked with me through the process of fact-checking and cross-referencing to make sure the images were just right.


3. I loved your
interview where you shared a bit about your illustration process. What was your favorite part of working on the book?

There were so many! I never anticipated how much I’d love painting space! I particularly loved the spreads where I got to play with large expanses of color to depict space, the earth and the ocean.

The part closest to my heart though was researching and illustrating what Katherine’s world may have looked like as a little girl — her school, her family, her classmates, and her imagination. That’s the part of the story I’ll always be attached to — that foundation is what allowed her to become the figure we know her to be today.

Photos from Veronica’s research file

Thanks Veronica for joining us and sharing your insights on the project.

No doubt, Katherine Johnson is an inspiring pioneer and role model. As a woman engineer who has worked on rockets, I did my best to make sure all the details and facts in the book are correct. That meant years of research, interviews, and meticulous record keeping. (My “Sources Document” with the source for each number, fact, and quote is 32-pages long.)

Photo of K. Johnson at her desk (a great “extra” in the book.)

I also wanted to help readers connect with Katherine — to get an authentic sense of her personality and beliefs. So I decided to include a few actual quotes so readers could hear Katherine express her thoughts in her own words.

For example, after Katherine was invited to join the “space team” she discovered women weren’t allowed in their group meetings. When she asked her co-workers 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 she attended all 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.”

Just imagine how Katherine’s empowering words will encourage today’s readers to speak up and find out what they want to know!

★ “… 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

* * * * * * GIVEAWAY * * * * * *

I’ll randomly select one person who comments on the post to win an autographed copy of A COMPUTER CALLED KATHERINE. Good luck! (Winners from my last blog post below.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

If you’d like to learn more about Katherine Johnson, check out these great interviews: Makers Profile Interview and National Visionary Project Interview (Bottom of page)

* * * * * * WINNERS! * * * * * *

Winners of their very own Space Selfies from my last post — Tina Cho, Beth Anderson, Kathy Weichman, Terri Michels, and Jennifer Phillips. You all make awesome astronauts. Feel free to copy and keep!

Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade is the author of more than 100 books. A mechanical engineer by degree, she enjoys writing about science topics and fascinating historical figures. Recent books include: A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon, The Daring Dozen, Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, Astronaut Annie, Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, Dangerous Jane, The Music in George's Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue and The Inventor’s Secret. Coming soon -- Exquisite (Abrams, 2020), SWISH! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters (LIttle, Brown), and TBA titles from Calkins Creek, Peachtree, and Sleeping Bear Press. Learn more about Suzanne and her books at: www.suzanneslade.com

60 Comments:

  1. Beautiful book! And what a surprise to see my face in space! I’ll show that to my students! Thanks so much, Suzanne!

  2. This book looks fantastic! I’d love to give my daughter a copy for her 6th birthday, she’s hugely interested in space and astronauts right now.

  3. Great post and fantastic person to write about! The glimpse into the research process is very helpful for writers. My daughter would love this book as she is a huge fan of math.

    • So glad you enjoyed the post and a bit about the research behind it. It’s so great to hear about young girls who love math. But what’s not to love? (It was always my favorite subject in school.)

      • My son must’ve felt this year was the year for space picture books. He just recently started this obsession with space. He’s memorized the date of the first moon landing, who it was, and what he said. On his own, by reading! Looking forward to reading this book with him. He has said for a long time he wants to be an engineer. And yes he’s only five but he has been saying it. Now he says he wants to be an astronaut. Congratulations!

  4. I love this interview! I can’t wait to read this story and see all of Veronica’s art up close. I love what I’ve seen so fat!

    • So glad you enjoyed the post and a bit about the research behind it. It’s so great to hear about young girls who love math. But what’s not to love? (It was always my favorite subject in school.)

    • Thanks for your kind words Traci! Veronica’s art is even more amazing when you look closely and see all the incredible details she included. Plus I love her wonderful color palette!

  5. What an amazing book! I’m usually not into space, but I am now:).

  6. What a great interview! I cannot wait to get my hands on this PB!

  7. Thanks so much for featuring this book. The illustrations are amazing!

  8. Remarkable–both the story behind and the illustrations!

  9. This looks wonderful! Thanks for the interview too, Suzanne! Congrats to you and Veronica! Gorgeous illustrations!

  10. What a wonderful book — thanks for writing it! Wishing you all the best!

  11. Jill, you and Veronica have brought the world a beautiful, inspiring and much needed story about Katherine Johnson. Thank you!

  12. Congratulations, Suzanne and Veronica on a beautiful book about a wonderful role model! Can’t wait to read it. Don’t I look super as an astronaut?

  13. This book looks fantastic! I love the title. Thank you for bringing this compelling story to life for young readers.

  14. Great stuff! Looking forward to this one. Beautiful. Informative. Inspirational.

  15. I love it! The artwork is just beautiful and I love the whole idea! ♥

  16. Oh how wonderful!!!! Congratulations, Suzanne!!!! xo

  17. Congrats Suzanne and Veronica. It looks like an amazing book!

  18. You’re so sweet Kirsten! I’m thrilled with how the book turned out and can’t wait to share it with young readers.

  19. Oh this is exciting…I can’t wait to read it!

  20. I look forward to reading your latest – the illustrations look fabulous & I know from reading some of your other #PB biographies the wonderful details you include. Congratulations on the upcoming book launch!

  21. Thanks so much for your very kind comments Patricia! The illustrations are incredible, and we were able to include some nice “extras” in the back matter pages such as a photo of Katherine Johnson, and some interesting NASA photos and documents. I appreciate your encouraging words!

  22. This story sounds wonderful. She overcame a lot so she could contribute to the space program. I cannot wait to check it out.

  23. Loved the movie, can’t wait to read this book. Thanks. So far I love the illustrations; I’ll love seeing all of them.

  24. Susan, so good to hear from you! I hope your writing is going well! The Hidden Figures movie was awesome. But like most Hollywood movies, they changed a few of the facts. Thanks for your kind note!

  25. I can’t wait to read your book, Suzanne! And Veronica’s illustrations are “out of this world!” 😉 Congratulations!

  26. Just heard a wonderful interview on NPR with the amazing illustrator, Veronica! Congratulations to you both. Looks like a tremendous book.

  27. What a beautiful and inspiring book! Well done! Can’t wait to read it! PS LOVE the selfies!

  28. I really appreciate your kind comments Angie. Thanks!

  29. Congratulations! What an important story!

  30. Wonderful in all aspects! I’m fascinated by the entire process of writing and illustrating children’s books. So glad that there are talented folks like yourself and Ms. Jamison. We love to search for great reads for our grandchildren.

  31. Suzanne: What an amazing book created by you and Veronica Jamison. You both have done your research.

    Such a great quote: “If you want to know, ask a question. There’s no such thing as a dumb question.”

    I look forward to reading this book and viewing the illustrations.

    Suzy Leopold
    P. S. I love the space selfies!

    • It was so fascinating to research Katherine and the missions she worked on. I’m glad we could include several quotes from Katherine. I think they add authenticity to the story for young readers. Thanks for stopping by!

  32. Greetings Suzanne, I just two full, energizing yet exhausting at the same time, days at a Young Artist’ Conf. I learn so much from the young minds in my classes. I came home and couldn’t wait to sit down at my computer and start to work on the latest idea for a new PB. Then I read your post! How exciting you turned my good day into a great day. thank you.
    The interview with Veronica Jamison is well done and your story gives me goose bumps to think of such a courageous, smart and brave woman’s story can be told through words and illustrations.

  33. Sounds like you had a great time at the Young Artist Conference! Glad you enjoyed the post and interview with Veronica!

  34. Perfect timing with the 50th anniversary of the first step on the moon on July 20! Love how the back story of the book and illustrations all came together! Thanks for sharing!

  35. Just put a hold on my library’s copy. I’ve had this one on my to-read list for some time as I enjoyed Hidden Figures (both the book and the movie) and have made it a point to read several other books (both children’s and adult) about the “hidden” women of science and technology. Can’t wait to see your, and Veronica;s, take on Katherine.

  36. How wonderful you’ve placed a hold on the book at your library! I hope you enjoy A COMPUTER CALLED KATHERINE. After the manuscript for this book was acquired in 2015, I couldn’t wait for the Hidden Figures book and movie to release in 2016. I used the book to double-check my facts because author Margot Shetterly had spent years interviewing the three women mathematicians (she had a grant to fund her research full-time), so I treated her book as a primary source. The movie was very interesting and compelling, but as Hollywood often does, it’s “based on a true story” version is not all factually correct, particularly with regards to Katherine’s experiences (which Shetterly and Johnson have acknowledged.) So my “take” on the story was to share some of Katherine’s actual experiences as she described in 3 interviews (National Visionary Leadership Project, Makers Profile, and WHRO TV) and I confirmed those facts with Shetterly’s book. Sorry for the long answer! I guess nonfiction authors can get rather wordy when discussing facts and sources!

  37. Such a warmth and familiarity in the writing…I have every intentions of sharing this book in my, “Reach2Read” libraries!

    It’s a small price to pay for such a great legacy, book and illustrative work!

    BTW, each one of the library boxes are re-purposed newspaper boxes that were painted by local artists.

    Here’s to all the “SHEROES”, past and present!!!

    Thanks again!

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