Lone Tree resident’s book headed for space

Arts commission member illustrated book about NASA mathematician

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Dow Phumiruk, Lone Tree resident and member of the Lone Tree Arts Commission, has illustrated 15 children’s books including “Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13.”

This book, written by Helaine Becker, was recently chosen for Storytime From Space — a project of the Global Space Education Foundation that sends children’s books to the International Space Station.

Astronaut Megan McArthur will read the book from space, and a recording will be made available on the Storytime From Space website.

The book details the story of Katherine Johnson, an African American mathematician who worked for NASA during the space race. Her backup procedures and charts helped save the Apollo 13 crew after their mission to the moon was aborted.

“It was the space race at that time, so they’re like 'Whoever wants to help us beat everyone else to the moon come sign up.’ And back then, because we didn’t have any real computers like machine computers, they hired people to do the calculations,” said Phumiruk.

“And men actually thought that that was too boring and too tedious, so they gave it to the women to do. And there were probably about 200 Black women that worked for NASA at the time, which is amazing because we’ve never heard about any of them until recently.”

The original book was published in 2018. A second edition was published in the UK the following year for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

Among other awards, the book won The Cook Prize from the Center for Children’s Literature and the UK LA Literary Association Inaugural Information Book Award. Phumiruk also stated that around 100,000 copies have been sold in the U.S. and UK.

Phumiruk wasn’t always a professional illustrator. She explained that she enjoyed art as a child, but becoming a stay-at-home mom to her daughters from 2002 to 2006 was what led her to pursue art again.

“Being home with the kids, I really had an opportunity to really explore my artistic side, and I realized that that’s such a big part of me. There’s no way I could ever leave that part behind. In fact, it’s taken over,” said Phumiruk.

Phumiruk started learning on her own and researching techniques. In 2011, She joined the Society for Children’s Book Writers.

“That’s where I really took off with my art, because I went to the conferences and got to know some other artists in the neighborhood and had a critique group going, and I got an agent maybe four years after joining that organization,” said Phumiruk.

Phumiruk previously worked as a pediatrician, taught part time at Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine and worked on illustrations. She quickly realized that this was too overwhelming.

Phumiruk said, “I came to a crisis of, I can’t do it all. I can’t raise the children, be a doctor, teach medical school and all that, and I ended up choosing to just teach and do the art.”

She expected to return to pediatrics, but then was picked up by her agent and started working on paying projects.

Phumiruk’s newest book, “Hello, Tree” was written by Ana Crespo, who is also from Colorado. It follows a little girl who finds friendship in a tree during the Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs that took place in 2013. “Hello, Tree” will be released on Sept. 14.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect number of books sold.

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