Friday, August 17, 2018

Hidden Women by Rebecca Rissman

There have been several books and a popular movie featuring these mostly forgotten African-American women. Capstone's title is part of their narrative nonfiction series, Encounter, and introduces readers to a variety of women from the history of the space race.

From the exciting first moments of the story, when astronaut John Glenn insisted on Katherine Johnson checking the numbers for his flight into space, each of the women is profiled and their contributions shown. Rissman sets the stage for the women who started out as "human computers" and then continued to be involved in science. Miriam Mann, a talented mathematician, fought against segregation in small ways as she developed the math to support space flights. Mary Jackson spoke out against racism and became part of the staff working on wind tunnels and an engineer in her own right. Dorothy Vaughan managed the human computers in West Area Computing, where the African-American women were segregated, but she also worked to keep her staff relevant and learning so that they would continue to have jobs as computers took over the work they had been doing. Annie Easley was a mathematician who also became a computer programmer. Christine Darden was part of the second generation of African-American women working at NASA, but still faced discrimination. The story ends with an encapsulated view of the moon landing, more information about Katherine Johnson and the use of her math in future flights, and a final reflection on the contributions and futures of the women featured.

Although none of the women were acknowledged at the time, they had a major role not only in the space race and development of computing but also in the battle of African-Americans and women against prejudice. The epilogue talks to several women involved in NASA about their experiences, how sexism and racism has improved -and how it hasn't. Back matter includes a timeline, glossary, critical thinking questions, and resources.

Verdict: This is a good choice for middle grade readers who aren't up to handling the more complex and intense books written on this subject but are still interested in history and science. It did feel a little disjointed, jumping from one woman to another, but the episodic nature may make it easier for kids to read.

ISBN: 9780515799641; Published January 2018 by Capstone; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

No comments: