Classified – Perfect Picture Book Friday

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Title: Classified, The Secret career of MARY GOLDA ROSS, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer

Author: Traci Sorell

Illustrator: Natasha Donovan

Publisher: Milbrook Press, 2021

Ages: 5-8

40 pages. 

Genre: biography

Themes: women, girls, equality, aerospace, engineer, Cherokee, Cherokee values, Lockheed Missiles and Space, Native American, math


Do the best you can and search out available knowledge and build on it. I started with a firm foundation in mathematics and qualities that came down to me from my Indian heritage

–Mary Golda Ross, April 2008


Mary Golda Ross designed classified airplanes and spacecraft as Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s first female engineer. Find out how her passion for math and the Cherokee values she was raised with shaped her life and work.

Cherokee author Traci Sorell and Métis illustrator Natasha Donovan trace Ross’s journey from being the only girl in a high school math class to becoming a teacher to pursuing an engineering degree, joining the top-secret Skunk Works division of Lockheed, and being a mentor for Native Americans and young women interested in engineering. In addition, the narrative highlights Cherokee values including education, working cooperatively, remaining humble, and helping ensure equal opportunity and education for all. (publisher)

Why I like this book:

An inspiring story of a Cherokee woman in the first half of the twentieth century, facing severe racism and sexism, who worked for Lockheed designing (classified) planes and astronomical systems, to make a major contribution to the development of the field of astrophysics.  She was selected as one of forty engineers for the Skunk Works division.

It meant Mary worked on projects that people had only imagined and some no one had ever thought of before. No vessel had ever flown nonstop around Earth—with or without a pilot. Flying beyond Earth? That seemed impossible.

Lots of what Mary and her fellow engineers did at Lockheed is still classified, but it is known that she helped put men into space and on the moon. She’s one of those hidden figures we need to be talking about more.

I had the pleasure of interviewing the author for a We Need Diverse Books blog post I wrote back in 2014 and have been following Traci’s writing career since. She is also Cherokee, and I appreciated the threads through the book of the Cherokee values always motivating Mary. It is hard to imagine the prejudice Mary was up against as a woman and native American during the first half of the 20th century.

This is a great book for dispelling the notion that girls and math/engineering are incompatible and for those with interest in space exploration. Yet another great biography I would even consider using in a Middle School classroom.


1 Gaining skills in all areas of life.
2. Working cooperatively with others
3. Remaining humble when others recognize your talents
4. Helping ensure equal education and opportunity for all.

Back matter includes a timeline; photographs; an author’s note; the four Cherokee values with a syllabary, transliteration, pronunciation, and English translation; source notes; and a bibliography. Mary Golda Ross died just three months short of her 100th birthday!

An interview with the author, Traci Sorell.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

This entry was posted in Biography, children's books, Children's literature, diversity, mighty girls, Perfect Picture Book Friday and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Classified – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. Thanks for also sharing the Cherokee values. Will definitely be looking for this book!

  2. Jilanne F Hoffmann says:

    As a former engineer (in the 1980s), I can only imagine what it would have been like earlier in the century. And being a Native American must have made it so much more difficult. I admire her strength and determination, even before I read this book! Great rec, Joanna!

  3. This is a stand-out book because of the way Ross used her Cherokee values as she worked with people. I was not familiar with Mary Ross, so I will look forward to reading her story. Thank you for sharing!

  4. This is a great book! I really enjoyed learning about another hidden hero. So glad you highlighted it Joanna!

  5. I’ve been meaning to read this book…thanks for reminding me I need to!

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