Picture Book Biography: Counting on Katherine

For the next month or two at Wrapped in Foil blog we’re going to be sharing some of the excellent children’s books nominated for Cybils awards.

Let’s start out with Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk.


Katherine Johnson was a gifted mathematician who was denied a high school education where she lived because of her skin color. Her father decided to move the family to another town where there was a school she could attend. Through persistence and hard work Katherine ended up working for NASA, where she performed the many complicated calculations needed for successful space flight.

This is the kind of biography that makes you want to stand up and cheer at the end. Helaine Becker does a wonderful job of summarizing Katherine Johnson’s life, distilling it to the essentials needed for a picture book. It’s delightful how she plays with Katherine’s love of counting by repetition of the phrase “count on me” through the text.

Dow Phumiruk’s digitally-created illustrations are both warm and finely detailed. They capture the tone of the book beautifully.

Counting On Katherine ticks all the boxes for a picture book biography because it reveals the life of an amazing woman set to the backdrop of her time in history. It is a moving story that will encourage young readers to dream big and follow their passions, no matter what the obstacles. Check out a copy today!