14 Jul

“When every man, woman, and child can feel and know…”

From The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

From The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

“[W]hen every man, woman, and child can feel and know that his, her, and their rights are fully protected by the strong arm of a generous and grateful Republic, then we can all truthfully say that this beautiful land of ours, over which the Star Spangled Banner so triumphantly waves, is, in truth and in fact, the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.'”

Spoken by John Roy Lynch in 1875. He was talking about the future.

Still true in 2016. And it’s still the future that we’re talking about. Not the present. Not yet.

13 Jul

A Whoosh! of good news

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Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions was among the Notable Children’s Books Nominees discussed by the Association for Library Service to Children during the American Library Association’s annual conference in Orlando last month. I’m not sure how nervous I would have been while hearing my book discussed in such a public setting, so it’s just as well that I had to leave the conference earlier that morning.

Publishers Weekly‘s PW KidsCast features this 17-minute conversation with me about Whoosh! (among other things).

The July/August issue of The Horn Book Magazine reviews Whoosh!, remarking on the book’s straightforward approach to Lonnie Johnson’s ups and downs, the “upbeat, you-can-do-it attitude,” and Don Tate’s eye for period detail in his illustrations (“from pegged jeans to bell-bottoms to cut-off shorts with knee socks”). The issue also includes a Q&A — literally, one Q and one A — with me about writing about a living person.

Shelf Awareness says, “Barton’s clean, lively prose and Tate’s boldly composed, often comical illustrations–including a dramatic gatefold capturing the Super Soaker’s mighty trajectory–make Lonnie Johnson’s story of passion and persistence whoosh to life.”

First Book, which provides access to new books for children in need, calls Whoosh! “perfect for budding scientists and engineers” and has listed it among Our Five Favorite Books this July.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science includes Whoosh! in Summer Reading: Invention and Innovation (“Our list of books to spark creativity for kids of all ages!”).

The National Science Teachers Association points out that Whoosh! “focuses on an unlikely character who is not privileged, but has a persistence and patience that will act as a role model for all young inventors. A great depiction of an inventor with the ‘right stuff’!”

The Nonfiction Detectives say that “Whoosh! is an inspiring story that will make children delight in what is possible.”

Alcalde, my college alumni magazine, notes the book’s “appeal to young inventors everywhere.”

The Booklist Reader says that “For elementary schools and public library collections, [Whoosh!] is a must.”

The Toledo Blade calls Whoosh! a “story of dreams and perseverance.”

Sonder Books says, “It’s hard to imagine a more kid-friendly picture book biography.”

And finally, here’s what Here Wee Read had to say about Whoosh!:

This book teaches kids things like: creativity, problem-solving, tenacity, grit, patience, rejection, and hard work. I’d highly recommend this book for kids who have a love for rockets, inventions, water guns, and a mind for creativity. Also great for studying Black inventors. I think they will enjoy learning about the many challenges Lonnie faced and how he solved his problems. A fun summertime read!

Thank you all who have embraced this book. I sincerely appreciate it. I hope you all have a blast this summer — and I can recommend just the toy to help you with that…

05 Jul

To Jupiter and beyond (and back)!

With Jupiter in the news — NASA’s Juno spacecraft has arrived to do what spacecraft do — it’s not hard for me to make a leap to Lonnie Johnson, subject of my newest book with Don Tate.

Before Lonnie became known as the inventor of the Super Soaker water gun, he worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the Galileo orbiter and probe. Here’s a piece of the spread where Whoosh! goes into some detail about Lonnie’s contribution to that mission:

Galileo for Bartography

Lonnie’s backup system had Galileo‘s back. “Much of what we know about Jupiter could have been at risk in a power failure if not for Lonnie,” explains the full text.

Sounds like we’re about to learn a lot more about Jupiter. Remember to save your files frequently, Juno!

07 Jun

My 18 days in Singapore

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Until the very end of April, I’d never been outside North America, but I corrected that in a big way when I took a 14-hour flight from Dallas to Doha and then another flight — this one a mere seven hours — to Singapore.

The occasion was my 12-day stint as author-in-residence at the Singapore American School. I conducted two-day writing workshops for the second- through fifth-graders and got to read a book or two to the schools first-graders, kindergartners, and pre-K students.

My view from SAS each morning as I made my way from the cafeteria to the elementary library.

My view from SAS each morning as I made my way from the cafeteria to the elementary library.

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Among my hosts was librarian Kate Brundage. I brought her a gift from back home -- a copy of Sarah Bird's A Love Letter to Texas Women -- without having any idea that Kate herself is technically a Texas resident.

Among my hosts was librarian Kate Brundage. I brought her a gift from back home — a copy of Sarah Bird’s A Love Letter to Texas Women — without have any idea that Kate herself is technically a Texas resident.

A few glimpses of what one of those writing workshops looked like.

A few glimpses of what one of those writing workshops looked like.

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One of the students laminated my autograph!

One of the students laminated my autograph!

The school days were full, but there was much I wanted to see in my downtime, so I got out and about a lot. Besides, I figured I could sleep on my long flight home. (This turned out not to be true.)

On my first Saturday there, I had lunch in Little India, visited the Sultan Mosque —

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— took a break for Japanese ice cream and coffee, went to a festival at the Thai embassy, and ended the day with an IMAX screening of Captain America: Civil War with Chinese subtitles.

Singapore offers a marvelous mix of cultures, history, natural beauty, and adventurous architecture. Here are a few of my favorite sights:

Marina Bay Sands from the south in midafternoon

Marina Bay Sands from the south in midafternoon

Me on the 55th floor of Marina Bay Sands, looking south

Me on the 55th floor of Marina Bay Sands, looking south

Another view from the top of Marina Bay Sands, of Gardens by the Bay

Another view from the top of Marina Bay Sands, of Gardens by the Bay

A few up-close views of Gardens by the Bay

A few up-close views of Gardens by the Bay

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(Yes, those are made of LEGO.)

(Yes, those are made of LEGO.)

Inside the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown

Inside the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown

The Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple in Little India

The Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple in Little India

Inside the Armenian Apostolic Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator

Inside the Armenian Apostolic Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator

Most of the signage was in English. Some was less familiar to me.

Most of the signage was in English. Some was less familiar to me.

I picked the right day to follow my mom's suggestion and go to the modernism exhibit at the National Gallery Singapore.

I picked the right day to follow my mom’s suggestion and go to the modernism exhibit at the National Gallery Singapore.

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What else? Let’s see — there was a wet market:

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The MacRitchie Reservoir Park, with Kate Brundage…

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…and monkeys:

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The Singapore Botanic Garden, with an Evolution Garden that I especially liked:

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Though this guy was also a highlight:

But my favorite place to photograph was, without a doubt, Haw Par Villa:

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The centerpiece of Haw Par Villa is the Ten Courts of Hell, the representations of which are a bit extreme. There are serious punishments for more infractions than I knew existed. Trust me, you don’t want to suffer the consequences of misusing books.

But I can’t end there. I’ve got to go back to SAS and one of the campus cats. Because campus cats.

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23 May

Whoosh! (or, What’d I Miss?, part 1)

I just got back from teaching for twelve days as author-in-residence at the Singapore American School (yes, there will be photos here).

And that stretch was only part of the nearly four weeks that went by between my previous two posts, thanks to a technical issue that was tough to fix from afar for someone like me who has, well, technical issues.

All in all, I’m feeling a little like this guy:

So, what all was going on over here while I was over there teaching writing workshops to second- through fifth-graders?

Whoosh!The biggest thing is that Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions had its publication day on May 3.

I’m super-proud of this second collaboration with my friend Don Tate. Previously, Don and I teamed up for The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, a biography set a century before Whoosh! and a couple of states over.

(John Roy Lynch spent his early life in Louisiana and Mississippi, and Alabama native Lonnie Johnson now lives and works in Georgia.)

Don commemorated the occasion with a pair of blog posts — packed with sketches and examples of his attempts at finding the right illustration style — about the research and revision that went into this book:

Our publisher, Charlesbridge, celebrated by sharing my author’s note for Whoosh!:

I loved talking with Lonnie Johnson for this book. I have never laughed as hard during an interview as I did when we discussed his work on Linex and how his family “put up with” his efforts—or rather, how they encouraged him.

School Library Journal included the book in its roundup of titles about “Tenacious Trailblazers“:

Readers follow the many obstacles and setbacks Johnson experienced as he tirelessly worked to launch his invention. The narrative … adeptly captures the passion and dedication necessary to be an engineer.

Booklist had this to say about Lonnie Johnson and Whoosh!:

The text emphasizes the continuing support he received from his family, and the vibrant illustrations are especially effective at capturing expressions and mannerisms that bring Johnson to life (as when Johnson and his fellow Tuskegee Institute students party to a sound and light system constructed from leftover electronics). This upbeat tribute makes an engaging and inspiring addition to STEM collections.

Scholastic named Whoosh! to its list of “50 Sensational Books of Summer“:

The brisk storytelling and pictures transport us from the ’60s through the ’80s, as Johnson invents everything from rockets to robots to the Super Soaker water gun.

Whoosh! has also been featured on A Year of Reading:

I love so much about this book. I love that it expands the scientists our children know. I love how it ties into the maker movement with all that Lonnie Johnson has created. And I love that we can continue to follow his work.

And on Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook:

Recently, the Makerspace movement is getting a good push. Makerspace, defined as a DIY space where people gather to create, invent and learn, has become popular in libraries and classrooms. There were several times when I stopped and marked pages or sentences that reminded me of the Makerspace ideals. What a perfect book to use when talking about what the spirit of Makerspace is all about.

And on Readin’, Ritin’, But Not Much ‘Rithmatic:

The team of Chris Barton and Don Tate missed the memo that nonfiction is dry and boring. Together again after The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, they … use words and illustrations woven seamlessly together to add child-appealing humor without compromising the struggles Lonnie faced to fulfill his dreams.

And on Kid Lit Frenzy!

Chris Barton is in his element when writing picture book biographies and his newest biography of Lonnie Johnson is a fascinating and informative read.

Finally, in its guide to summer reading, the Austin American-Statesman led off with Whoosh!:

“Whoosh!” provides an important counterweight to the traditional image of scientists as exclusively white, Einstein-like figures.

Wow. I’m so grateful for all the attention this book received while I was away. Maybe I should (be forced to) take a break more often…