Super Star: A Review of Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer

Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer
Written by Traci Sorell and illustrated by Natasha Donovan
Published by Lerner Publishing Group/Millbrook Press
Available on March 2, 2021
Ages 6-10

Author Traci Sorell and illustrator Natasha Donovan team up to tell the story of Mary Golda Ross, an aerospace engineer who infused her Cherokee values into her work. Sorell and Donovan begin Ross’s journey in the 1920s when she was the lone girl in her math class in northeastern Oklahoma. When boys refused to sit next to her, she was even more determined to do well. As she continued on to college, she majored in mathematics and became a math and science teacher. Ross was later hired to be an adviser at the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ coed boarding school in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Ross infused her teaching with “the Cherokee value of instructing in a gentle, thoughtful way” as she taught Pueblo and Navajo girls at the school. (10) Following the United States entrance into World War II, Ross began work as a mathematician for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, working on design problems affecting fighter planes. Ross found acceptance and career growth at Lockheed, becoming their first female engineer, and she helped other women join her in the field. After World War II ended and the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union began, Ross accepted an invitation to join the Skunk Works division, a top-secret group at Lockheed. Ross designed initiatives for space travel, and her work helped send astronauts to the moon. Despite her tremendous achievement, Ross did not seek the spotlight, and instead focused on recruiting women and American Indians to study math and science. Sorell’s straightforward prose illuminates how Ross’ technical work and Cherokee heritage combined for a powerful force.  Donovan blends Ross’ imaginative and conceptual work through graph paper mockups and designs; these images populate the picture book and reference specific projects Ross worked on.  Ross’ proximity to others within each page gauges how accepted Ross is in her field: near the beginning of the book, she is alone; at the end she is surrounded by colleagues and future leaders. This picture book biography starts with “A Note on Cherokee Values,” contextualizing the values and ideals that shaped Mary Golda Ross’ life. The back matter includes a detailed timeline of Ross’ life, and an author’s note and a section on Cherokee Values, a resource list and bibliography. Traci Sorell’s note explains her connection to Mary Golda Ross as a member of the Cherokee Nation; the “Four Cherokee Values” section offers readers a guide to the direct syllabary, transliteration, pronunciation of each value, as well as an English definition.

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