On My Bookshelf: Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

May 14, 2018

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly is a wonderful mix of history lesson and biographical narrative. The text explains the challenges of African Americans from roughly the 1940s through the 1970s, but makes the information personal through the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot from Amazon: This edition of Margot Lee Shetterly’s acclaimed book is perfect for young readers. It is the powerful story of four African-American female mathematicians at NASA who helped achieve some of the greatest moments in our space program. Now a major motion picture starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, and Kevin Costner.

Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

This book brings to life the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, who lived through the Civil Rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the movement for gender equality, and whose work forever changed the face of NASA and the country.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly is a wonderful mix of history lesson and biographical narrative. The text explains the challenges of African Americans from roughly the 1940s through the 1970s, but makes the information personal through the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.


Why I liked it: Hidden Figures is a wonderful mix of history lesson and biographical narrative. The text explains the challenges of African Americans from roughly the 1940s through the 1970s, but makes the information personal through the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden. I loved that the book focused on minority women and the important, yet little known role (as the title implies) that they played in both the war effort during World War II and the achievements in space during the Cold War. I was amazed at some of the difficult choices the four women made to help advance their families, their race, and their gender.

Classroom application: This book would be a perfect pairing with a history unit on World War II, Civil Rights, the Space Race, and/or the Cold War. The text has math and science, particularly physics, tie ins that could lead to cross-curricular lessons. The book could also be part of literature circles focused on women breaking out of stereotypical roles. If your students are a fan of Steve Sheinkin's nonfiction, like Bomb and The Port Chicago 50, they'll love this one as well.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Hidden Figures for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

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