Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, August 3, 2017

She Wanted Answers

The year is 1969.  It is the 20th day of July.  All over the United States, anywhere in the world, where you can watch television, people are staring at screens and listening.  It's nearly evening when they hear the words, The Eagle has landed.  Late that night astronaut Neil Armstrong says when walking on the Moon:

That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.

Four days later when astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins safely land their spacecraft, Apollo 11 is an unprecedented historical event.

Many people might not be aware of the persistence, dedication and curiosity of one woman who contributed to the ultimate success of this and the other Apollo missions.  Margaret And The Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved The First Lunar Landing (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, May 16, 2017) written by Dean Robbins with illustrations by Lucy Knisley introduces this living legend.  She believes in herself.  She believes in science.

Margaret Hamilton loved to solve problems.
She came up with ideas
no one had ever thought of before.

Margaret wanted to be prepared for every opportunity so she studied every subject offered.  She excelled in all of them but mathematics was her favorite.  She and her father, a poet and philosopher, had many conversations about the universe.  She found the world beyond our planet fascinating.

Using mathematics, she embraced this fascination, step by step.  When computers became part of her world, they opened up whole new possibilities.  She told computers what she wanted them to do by writing code.  She used the term software engineer to describe her job.  She perfected her skills.

Sometime in 1964 Margaret approached the group at NASA working on getting people to the Moon.  She knew programmed computers could help.  If a solution was found for every conceivable problem, the missions could be accomplished.  Margaret became the Director of Software Programming for NASA's Project Apollo.

Her code for Apollo 11 when stacked was taller than she was!  All went well until just as the Eagle was to land on the Moon; warnings sounded but Margaret was prepared.  She had found answers, step by step.  On this date in 1969 Margaret Hamilton was only thirty-three years old.

Each concise sentence written by Dean Robbins compels us to read the next one.  His narrative of her life's work unfolds almost like a mathematical equation which is ingenious writing.  Robbins has selected those things about Margaret Hamilton which increase our admiration for her accomplishments with every page turn.  His repetition of certain key phrases generates a gentle storytelling rhythm.  Here is a sample passage.

Margaret taught herself to write code that performed more and more complicated tasks.
She programmed computers to track airplanes through the clouds...
...and even to predict the weather.
She made them do things they had never done before.

The inquisitiveness which was the essence of Margaret Hamilton's pursuits is perfectly pictured on her expression seen on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case.  It is what propelled her toward her achievements especially for the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon.  The combination of more realistic depictions with the drawings of spacecraft and mathematical equations is a wonderful design choice.  To the left, on the back, Margaret is shown lying on a hill at night, looking at the stars and a crescent moon.

The opening and closing endpapers are ablaze with stars on a midnight blue sky.  A full moon hangs in the upper left-hand corner.  A rolling lawn spreads toward a single home on the right.  Leaning out an upper window is Margaret.  On the closing endpapers original photographs of Margaret throughout her life are shown.

Rendered in ink and paper and colored in Adobe Photoshop the illustrations by Lucy Knisley appear in a variety of sizes and shapes.  The verso and first page are combined on a large chalkboard with Margaret working a mathematical problem.  Then Knisley moves to a single page picture followed by a group of smaller images.  Each visual works to enhance the text and heighten the pacing.

Readers will connect with the emotions portrayed on Margaret's facial expressions as she strives to implement her ideas.  The details Knisley includes are significant as are the real computer pages and the rocket launch on the television screen.  The night sky with the labeled constellations is breathtaking.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is on a partial page.  Margaret is thinking about the Moon; wondering about the distance there in miles and the miles in its orbit around our planet.  When she thinks about how fast it travels and how big its diameter is, she is suspended in space, eyes closed behind her glasses as she embraces the Moon.

This book, Margaret And The Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved The First Lunar Landing written by Dean Robbins with illustrations by Lucy Knisley, about the inspirational life of a remarkable woman will motivate every reader to seek their own vision.  It will also promote further investigation about Margaret Hamilton.  (I've spent hours doing more research.)  This is the beauty of a well-written nonfiction picture book.  At the close of the book an author's note, bibliography and additional reading are included.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal bookshelves.  This book has been nominated for the Amelia Bloomer Project.

To learn more about Dean Robbins and Lucy Knisley and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website readers can get a glimpse inside this book.  Dean Robbins is interviewed at Deborah Kalb's blog.  One of the resources at the end of the book is this post at WIRED, HER CODE GOT HUMANS ON THE MOON---AND INVENTED SOFTWARE ITSELF.  You will enjoy this article at Space.com about this title and the writing process.  It was a pleasure to listen to this video and read the information at Makers about Margaret Hamilton.  This is the link to the NASA page about the Lunar Landing.

Please take a few minutes to read about the titles selected by other bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge located at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.

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