Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race; Margot Lee Shetterly with Winifred Conkling, illustrated by Laura Freeman
Hidden Figures tells the story of four African-American women who joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) which would eventually become the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Many years ago a computer was a person, a person who was really good at maths. And Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden were four such people. These four ladies had a passion for maths and wanted to use their skills to to make improvements to the field of aviation.
But getting a job at NACA would not be easy, not because these women did not have the education, knowledge or skill - they were some of the smartest mathematical minds in America. They faced a much greater challenge, a challenge that could not be overcome with schooling, they were black. And America in the 1940’s and 50’s was a very different world for black people, particularly black women. Social, gender and racial inequality meant that black women were not provided with the same opportunities and rights as white people. However, Dorothy, Mary and Katherine were not to be defined by the colour of their skin and joined NACA at various times between 1943 and 1953. Despite having to work in different rooms to the white ‘computers’ and having to use separate bathrooms and lunchrooms these three women were instrumental in the development of aviation and what could be accomplished in space.
Not content with simply being employed by NACA they would break into male dominated professions and force their way into men-only meetings. They made sure that they were judged on their mathematical contributions and not by their appearance. Christine Darden joined NASA much later than the other women but it was thanks to their work and drive for equality that she was able to become an engineer for supersonic planes and her first job was to get a man on the moon. As much as history was being created above the ground - orbiting men around the moon, landing a man on the moon, planning trips to other planets - these four women were breaking down barriers and creating their own history on the ground.
The book is beautifully illustrated with large and colourful images. Included at the back of the book is an illustrated timeline, individual bios of the four women, a glossary and an author’s note. The remarkable story of the women is one with wonderful messages of being determined, being persistent and making your own history. Whilst the names of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin easily come to mind when we think of achievements in space, the real stars are four black women who broke down barriers and created their own history at the NACA & NASA. Their story is truly inspirational and deserves to be read by every child. Essential reading.
Recommended for 7+.