Reaching for the Moon by Katherine Johnson

Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson by Katherine Johnson
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Genre: Non-Fiction, Autobiography, YA
Length: Full Length (256 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

The inspiring autobiography of NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, who helped launch Apollo 11.

As a young girl, Katherine Johnson showed an exceptional aptitude for math. In school she quickly skipped ahead several grades and was soon studying complex equations with the support of a professor who saw great promise in her. But ability and opportunity did not always go hand in hand. As an African American and a girl growing up in an era of brutal racism and sexism, Katherine faced daily challenges. Still, she lived her life with her father’s words in mind: “You are no better than anyone else, and nobody else is better than you.”
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In the early 1950s, Katherine was thrilled to join the organization that would become NASA. She worked on many of NASA’s biggest projects including the Apollo 11 mission that landed the first men on the moon.

Katherine Johnson’s story was made famous in the bestselling book and Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures. Now in Reaching for the Moon she tells her own story for the first time, in a lively autobiography that will inspire young readers everywhere.

This woman got to the moon without ever leaving the ground.

I’m fascinated by those who can do math. I don’t mean the 2+2 kind. I mean the kind that sorts out how to get a rocket off the ground, geometry, high level algebra… you know, the people who can get things to the moon and back. Katherine Johnson is a bit of an unsung hero. Sure, she’s the subject of the movie Hidden Figures, but there’s a lot more to this woman and the best place to learn about her is from the woman herself.

I didn’t realize right away that this was a YA book. It’s listed in the library as YA, but it reads more like a conversation. Katherine Johnson’s autobiography talks about many parts of her life and doesn’t pull punches. She mentions her first marriage and how Jimmy passed. How it was hard to be a woman in the computing industry and how hard her family fought to get her an education. I loved how she taught her brothers to read because she thought they were behind, but it was more that she was so far ahead!

If you’re looking for a book that’s delightful and reminds the reader what’s important in life–getting an education and being happy while doing your work because you’re doing what you love, then this is the book for you.

Teddy’s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer

Teddy’s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A mom goes to great lengths to rescue her son’s favorite doll in this delightful tribute to treasured toys—and mothers.

Teddy has a lot of cool toys. But his very favorite doll has the best manners, the sickest fighting skills, and a fierce sense of style.
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Then one morning, something truly awful happens. And there’s only one woman fierce enough to save the day. Can Teddy’s mom reunite Teddy with his favorite toy?

All toys are special, but some toys are truly irreplaceable.

The friendship between Teddy and Bren-Da, Warrior Queen of Pacifica, made me smile. He obviously loved his doll quite a bit, and I enjoyed seeing all of the thrilling adventures he imagined them going on. While there were only a few scenes that showed how he’d played with her before these two buddies were separated, I enjoyed learning about their backstory before the main events of the plot started to happen. It provided important context for Teddy’s reaction to her disappearance and made me hope for a happy ending for both of them.

I would have preferred to see more time spent on where Bren-Da went and how Teddy’s mom rescued her. This was such an important part of the plot that I was surprised by how quickly the narrator glossed over these events. While I’d expect the average tale for this age group to be written in a pretty lighthearted and reassuring manner, I do think there was a lot more room here to expand on how the rescue attempt might have played out since so much of it was left to the reader’s imagination.

There’s something to be said for a parent who will go to any length to make their child feel better. Teddy’s mom hadn’t meant any harm by what she did early on in the storyline. The fact that she worked so hard to find Bren-Da once she realized how much that doll meant to her son was one of the highlights of the plot for me. She was a very caring parent.

Teddy’s Favorite Toy was a gentle and heartwarming tale that should be read by anyone who still remembers which toy they liked the most when they were little.