March 8 – International Women’s Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday is celebrated around the world and focuses on the social, economic, cultural, and political accomplishments of women. Spurred on by recent events and increased activism, this year’s theme is “Press for Progress: a Push for Gender Parity worldwide.” Rallies, performances, and discussions as well as special events and lessons in schools are just some of the ways that International Women’s Day is commemorated.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race

Written by Margot Lee Shetterly | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

“Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good.” The United States was involved in World War II, and Dorothy wanted to help the war effort by working for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics to make planes faster, stronger, and safer. Developing new airplanes required lots of tests at the Langley Laboratory in Virginia. Today, we use computers to do the kinds of math needed, “but in the 1940s computers were actual people like Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine.”

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Copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, courtesy of lfreemanart.com.

Even though Dorothy was a woman and an African-American in the segregated South, Dorothy did not think her dream of getting a job was impossible. After all, she was really good at math. She applied and was hired as a computer. At Langley, whites and blacks worked in different buildings and had separate facilities. After the United States won the war, Dorothy stayed on to create better aircraft.

Now America and Russia were in competition to build the best airplanes. This required more math, more tests, and more computers. Mary Jackson was hired at Langley to test model airplanes in wind tunnels. Mary had her sights set on becoming an engineer, but most of the engineers were men. To prepare, Mary needed to take advanced math classes, “but she was not allowed into the white high school where the classes were taught.” Mary didn’t take no for an answer. She got special permission to take classes, got good grades, and “became the first African-American female engineer at the laboratory.”

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Copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, courtesy of HarperCollins.

In 1953 Katherine Jackson was hired for a team who tested airplanes while they were in the air. Her work was to analyze turbulence to make planes safer in dangerous gusts of wind. She wanted to go to her team’s meetings, but she was told by her boss again and again that it was impossible; women were not allowed to attend meetings. At last her persistence paid off, and she became the first woman to sign one of the group’s reports.

When machine computers were installed at Langley in the 1950s, they were faster than the human computers but made many mistakes. “Dorothy learned how to program the computers so they got the right answers and taught the other women in her group how to program too.”

In 1957 Russia launched a satellite into space, ramping up the competition with the United States. Now “the United States started building satellites to explore space too,” and the name of the agency was changed to the National Aeronautics and Space Agency or NASA. Then President John F, Kennedy set a goal of sending a man to the moon. First, however, there would need to be many experiments, new space craft, and tests to send astronauts into orbit. This meant more people who were good at math would be needed.

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Copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, courtesy of lfreemanart.com.

When the first manned space flight was planned, Katherine calculated the trajectory that would take John Glenn into space and bring him home again. In 1967 Dorothy Darden came to work at Langley. She loved electronic computers and wanted to become an engineer. “Her first job was to help with NASA’s mission to the moon.”

When Neal Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface for the first time on July 20, 1969, he said it was a giant leap for mankind. “It was also a giant leap for Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, Christine, and all of the other computers and engineers who had worked at the lab over the years.” The moon landing was just the beginning. NASA engineers were already dreaming of trips to other planets and super-fast spacecraft. And although it would be hard and require a lot of numbers, “Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, Christine knew one thing: with hard work, perseverance, and a love of math, anything was possible.”

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Copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Margot Lee Shetterly brings her compelling story Hidden Figures to children in this exceptional picture book that skillfully reveals the talents and dreams of Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, Christine as well as the work atmosphere and social injustices of the time period. While acknowledging the struggles and obstacles the four women faced, Shetterly keeps her focus on the incredible achievements of these brilliant women and the positive changes and opportunities for others they created. Brief-yet-detailed descriptions and explanations of math, science, and computer terms flow smoothly in the text, allowing all readers to understand and appreciate the women’s work.

As Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, Christine each begin their work at Langley as young women, Laura Freeman establishes their dreams and their particular field of expertise through richly colorful illustrations that highlight the schematics, tools, equipment, and models they used. In one particularly affecting spread, Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine go off to their offices on the left-hand side, and their white counterparts head out to theirs on the right-hand side while the blueprint of their building lies under their feet. Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine’s clothing is also mirrored in color by the women on the other side of the fold. Period dress and electronics show progression through the years, and kids may marvel at the size of early computers. The final image of Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine as older women is moving and inspirational.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race is an outstanding biography of four women who contributed their gifts for math as well as their self-confidence not only to science but to dreamers in their own and future generations. The book would be a stirring choice for classroom and home libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2018 | ISBN 978-0062742469

Discover more about Margot Lee Shetterly and her books on her website.

To learn more about Laura Freeman, her books, and her art, visit her website.

International Women’s Day Activity

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Women in STEM Coloring Book

 

Discover five women who broke barriers  and made important contributions to the science, technology, engineering, and math fields in this printable  Women in STEM Coloring Book created by the United States Department of Energy.

 

Picture Book Review

November 9 – It’s National Aviation History Month

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About the Holiday

National Aviation History Month and is dedicated to exploring, recognizing and celebrating America’s great contributions and achievements in the development of aviation. Human-powered flight has come a long way from its earliest roots in kites and gliders. Hot-air balloons and biplanes gave way long ago to more and more sophisticated airplanes, jets, and rockets that blast into space. To celebrate the month, visit a local museum or read up on some of the pioneers of early flight—like the courageous woman in today’s book.

Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Raúl Colón

 

Entertained crowds knew Ruth Law for the loops, the spiral dives, and even the dip of death that she performed in her airshow. But for Ruth these stunts were like standing still. She “longed to fly to get somewhere…somewhere far away.” She decided to make a trip from Chicago to New York City. There weren’t too many aviators brave enough to attempt such a long flight in the type of biplane Ruth flew. They feared that if something went wrong with the engine, they’d never realize it in time to land. But Ruth knew her plane inside and out and figured she “could anticipate what would happen to the motor by the sound of it.”

A trip like the one Ruth envisioned posed another problem, though. Her small biplane held only 16 gallons of gasoline—not enough to make the journey. She asked Glenn Curtis, who built her plane, if she could buy his latest model. This much bigger plane held 205 gallons of gas and had already proven itself for long-distance flight. But Curtis refused. He didn’t believe Ruth could handle the “powerful machine on such a long flight.”

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Image copyright Raúl Colón, text copyright Heather Lang. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Ruth was not to be deterred. She added three more gas tanks to her plane so that it could hold 53 gallons, installed a cover to protect her legs, and created a scrolling map of the route. Aviation experts said she would fail, but Ruth disagreed. “‘What those men can do a woman can do. I can do,’” she said. On a windy November 19, 1916, Ruth took to the cockpit to begin her nonstop flight. Although she was a little afraid of what lay ahead, she took off, believing that “the scare is part of the thrill” of any experience.

Ruth had counted on the strong wind to help push her farther faster, but just as quickly as it had blown up, the wind stopped. Ruth wondered if she would have enough gasoline after all. Flying over one landmark after another, Ruth felt exhilarated. As she passed over Cleveland, Ohio, though, “the oil gauge registered zero pressure. Something was wrong!” The sounds of her plane’s motors told Ruth a different story. She kept flying.

Soon she was passing over Erie, Pennsylvania—the site of the record-breaking flight by Victor Carlstrom. Even the icy stings of the frigid air couldn’t diminish her excitement. In a moment she was east of Erie and had broken Carlstrom’s record. The thrill of her achievement was tempered, however, by the sputtering of her engine. While there was still a little gas in the plane, it was “too low to feed into the engine.” Ruth tipped the plane forward to give it more gas. Two miles from Hornell, New York, the nearest landing spot, “the engine grumbled its last roar, leaving her with nothing but the silence of the wind.”

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Image copyright Raúl Colón, text copyright Heather Lang. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Ruth steered the plane as it glided into Hornell—512 miles from Chicago. She was the new American nonstop flight record holder. Ruth’s original plan had been to fly to New York City, so after refueling and grabbing a bite to eat, she took off once again. Weighed down by the full gas tank, the plane barely made it over a hill and tall trees in her path. This was as close to crashing as Ruth ever came—or ever wanted to be.

People along the route had already heard about Ruth Law, and they came out to watch and wave. With darkness closing in, Ruth decided that she would have to land short of New York City. She touched down in Binghamton, New York and took up the rest of the flight the next morning. As a thick blanket of fog obscured her view, Ruth flew lower and lower to get her bearings. When she finally spied the tip of Manhattan, she glided in and “circled around the Statue of Liberty toward Governor’s Island.” Of Lady Liberty, Ruth said, “‘She smiled at me when I went past. She did!…I think we both feel alike about things.’”

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Image copyright Raúl Colón, text copyright Heather Lang. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Cheered by a celebratory crowd and brass band, Ruth landed on the welcoming earth. Despite the icicles that hung from her hair and the numbing cold, Ruth smiled and waved. She realized then that not only had she broken an aviation record, she had made a point for all women. She later put her thoughts into words: “The sky was my limit and the horizon my sphere. It’s any woman’s sphere if she has nerve and courage and faith in herself.”

An Author’s Note about Ruth Law and her life, complete with photographs, follows the text.

Heather Lang’s thrilling account of Ruth Law’s record-breaking flight from Chicago to New York will have young aviators on the edge of their seat. Law’s flight was filled with suspense from its inception as an idea in a young woman’s mind to its final touchdown, and Lang deftly incorporates the facts as well as Law’s feelings into her well-rounded story. Along the way, readers learn about Ruth and also about early aviation. Ruth Law’s own words, included throughout the story, will inspire children as they see that even though she lived long ago, her thoughts and ideas still ring true today.

Young readers will be fascinated by Raúl Colón’s glowing illustrations of Ruth Law and her flying machine. His detailed drawings of Law’s biplane give children an excellent view of the open-air craft, fostering a true understanding of the courage it took for her to undertake such a flight. Images from Law’s viewpoint in the cockpit allow readers to vicariously travel her path to self-realization and a record-breaking flight.

Ages 5 – 8

Calkins Creek, 2016 | ISBN 978-1620916506

Check out Heather Lang’s website for more about her and her books. You’ll also find links to a video and photos about Ruth Law, a map of her route, and information about her plane as well as a Teacher’s Guide.

Fly along with Ruth in this Fearless Flyer book trailer!

National Aviation History Month Activity

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Head in the Clouds Biplane

 

If you love airplanes and flying, you’ll have fun making your own plane from recycled materials! Use your creativity to decorate your plane while you imagine yourself flying through the clouds on a beautiful day. Younger children will have fun sharing this activity with an adult or older sibling too!

Supplies

  • Travel-size toothpaste box
  • 3 6-inch x 1/2-inch craft sticks
  • 2  2 1/2-inch x 7/8-inch mini craft sticks
  • 5 Round toothpicks, with points cut off
  • Paint in whatever colors you like for your design
  • 4 small buttons
  • 2 mini buttons
  • Paint brushes
  • Strong glue or glue gun

Directions

  1. Empty toothpaste box
  2. Paint toothpaste box and decorate it
  3. Paint the craft sticks and 5 toothpicks
  4. Paint one small craft stick to be the propeller
  5. Let all objects dry

To assemble the biplane

  1. For the Bottom Wing – Glue one 6-inch-long craft stick to the bottom of the plane about 1 inch from the end of the box that is the front of the plane
  2. For the Top Wing – Glue the other 6-inch-long craft stick to the top of the plane about 1 inch from the front of the plane
  3. For the Tail – Glue one mini craft stick to the bottom of the box about ¾ inches from the end that is the back of the plane
  4. For the Vertical Rudder – Cut the end from one of the painted 6-inch-long craft sticks, glue this to the back of the box, placing it perpendicular against the edge and half-way between each side

To assemble the front wheels

  1. Cut 4 painted toothpicks to a length of ¾-inches long
  2. Cut one painted toothpick to a length of 1-inch long
  3. Glue 2 of the 3/4-inch toothpicks to the back of 1 button, the ends of the toothpicks on the button should be touching and the other end apart so the toothpicks form a V
  4. Repeat the above step for the other wheel
  5. Let the glue dry
  6. Glue the 1-inch long toothpick between the wheels at the center of each wheel to keep them together and give them stability. Let dry

To make the back wheel

  1. Cut two ¼-inch lengths of painted toothpick and glue them together. Let dry
  2. Glue two mini buttons together to form the back wheel. Let dry
  3. Glue the ¼-inch toothpicks to the mini buttons. Let dry
  4. Glue these to the bottom of the plane in the center of the box directly in front of and touching the tail

Display your biplane!

Picture Book Review