09 Aug

A video playlist, an educator’s guide, and a new honor for Whoosh!

Last week I received the news that Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions was a finalist for the 2016 Writers’ League of Texas Book Awards.

The WLT announced winners and finalists for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, middle grade/young adult, and picture book, with that latter category won by my friend Donna Janell Bowman’s terrific Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness.

I’m honored to be in such good company, and I appreciate all the effort that went into coming up with those short lists, considering all the writing talent that my home state has to offer.

There’s more good news for Whoosh! enthusiasts. The book’s publisher, Charlesbridge, has put together this downloadable discussion and activity guide, which I hope will come in handy in many libraries and classrooms this school year.

And here’s a little something more for fans of the Super Soaker as well as of the scientist who invented it: a Lonnie Johnson video playlist.

15 Mar

WHOOSH! keeps on going

From Whoosh!, illustrated by Don Tate

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions has been treated kindly by list-makers lately, and I’m beyond grateful. Thank you to all who have shown and shared your appreciation for this book.

It’s high time I mirrored that appreciation by rounding up some of that good news in one place — especially since the first two of the lists I’m about to share are up for a public vote.

Bank Street College of Education
The Cook Prize (Best Science, Technology, Engineering and Math [STEM] picture book) – 2017 Finalist

Every Child a Reader
2017 Children’s Choice Book Awards, 3rd-4th Grade Book of the Year – Finalist

A school or library can register here to vote for the Cook Prize, and kids can vote here for the Children’s Choice Book Awards.

Association for Library Service to Children
Notable Children’s Books 2017 (Non-Fiction) – Nominee

The Children’s Book Council and the National Council for the Social Studies
Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2017

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center
CCBC Choices 2017

Maine Association of School Libraries
The Chickadee Award, The Maine Children’s Choice Picture Book Award – 2017-2018 Nominee

Maryland Association of School Librarians
2017-2018 Black-Eyed Susan Book Award (Picture Book, Grades 4-6) – Nominee

Maryland Library Association, Children’s Services Division
2017 Maryland Blue Crab Young Reader Award, Transitional Non-Fiction – Winner

Pennsylvania School Librarians Association
2017 – 2018 Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Program Master List, Grades 3-6

Texas Institute of Letters
Denton Record Chronicle Award for Best Children’s Picture Book – 2017 Finalist

Vermont Center for the Book/Mother Goose Programs and the Vermont Department of Libraries
2017-2018 Red Clover Award (Vermont’s Picture Book Award For Children in Grades K-4) – Nominee

I guess I should specify that when I say “lately,” I mean in the past three months. So, if you’re still getting caught up on “Best of the Year” lists from the end of 2016, you’ve come to the right place. Or at least an understanding one.

Nerdy Book Club
The 2016 Nerdies: Nonfiction Picture Book Winners

The Nonfiction Detectives
The Best Nonfiction Books of 2016

Denver Public Library
Best & Brightest Biographies of 2016

Betsy Bird was especially prolific with the list-making over at A Fuse #8 Production, where she spotlighted her favorite books of 2016 in different categories each day in December, including Science and Nature Books for Kids and Nonfiction Picture Books before capping it all off with:

A Fuse #8 Production
100 Magnificent Children’s Books 2016

Whoosh! was also included in Booklist Online’s Classroom Connections: Overlooked Inventors and Their Notable Inventions, Pernille Ripp’s My Favorite Picture Books of 2016, Colours of Us’ 40 Best Multicultural Picture Books of 2016, Here Wee Read’s 55 of the Best Diverse Picture and Board Books of 2016, Daydream Reader’s My Top 16 Books in 2016, and Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook’s Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday – My 2016 Favorites

If you or a young reader you know is still craving more information about the inventor of the Super Soaker, this new Q&A with Lonnie Johnson conducted by Forbes is one of the best I’ve seen.

And if you still want more, might I recommend these brief videos in which Don Tate and I discuss how we made Whoosh! and answer other questions posed to us by the Texas Bluebonnet Award committee. We hope you enjoy ’em!

20 Feb

Whoosh!, race, and “ALL students”


One day last month (it happened to be Inauguration Day), my friend Alia Jones posted this on Facebook:

Something interesting happened today. A school visited our store on a field trip & the teacher read a story to her class (4th graders?). She picked Whoosh! from our shelves. In the story, Lonnie takes his robot to a 1968 Science Fair at Univ. of Alabama “where only five years earlier, African American students hadn’t even been allowed.” You can feel the tension in the illustrations…Anyway, this teacher, on the fly, edited the book to “where only five years earlier ALL students hadn’t even been allowed.” I turned my head real quick!! She made a decision not to mention race. As she discussed the book with her students, she said Lonnie overcame a lot, but did NOT mention racism/segregation. She was white and her class was mostly white students. I just thought this was fascinating…

A couple of weeks later (it happened to be Groundhog Day), I followed up with Alia:

I have been thinking about your anecdote about Whoosh! at the bookstore for two weeks now — a sure sign that my brain needs to write something about it. Would you allow me to share your original Facebook post on my blog, and/or would you be willing to have a conversation with me via email that I could publish?

Alia said yes to both. What follows is our ensuing email conversation (lightly edited for clarity).

Chris: Thanks for being willing to give some more time/thought to that strange episode with Whoosh! in your store. My mind is still reeling. And I’ve got questions!

First off, do teachers often bring their students on field trips to the store? And did Whoosh! just seem to be a random selection on the teacher’s part?

Alia: No problem at all!

Field trips aren’t a regular thing at our store but when they happen, classes get a special story time.

The teacher decided to read a book while her students took bathroom breaks. 4th/5th graders maybe? I saw her walk over to our Non-Fiction/History bookshelf. I always display select books on top of the shelf and she picked Whoosh!

I think it was a random selection; she didn’t seem familiar with the story as she read it aloud.

Chris: So she got to the page in Whoosh! where the text alludes to the infamous — and historically well documented — episode in 1963 when Gov. George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door to try to prevent two Black students from entering the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. And this teacher spontaneously reworked the text so that, what — the governor of Alabama had been trying to keep any students from attending the state university?

Alia: Exactly. I don’t think she expected your book to have a “racial element” and when she got to the line:

“where only five years earlier, African American students hadn’t even been allowed,”

she made a quick decision to change it even though it makes no sense. Maybe she wasn’t expecting her impromptu story time to be a lesson on “race issues.” I think she made the story into what she needed it to be, one that didn’t mention racism/discrimination explicitly.

Chris: This makes no sense to me. I mean, none. Am I missing something?

Alia: I don’t think you’re missing anything. At first glance, your book doesn’t “look” like it will be historical; it just looks like a fun story about inventions and a guy with a water gun. She didn’t see it coming…

Chris: Did any of the kids ask about her nonsensical edit?

Alia: No they didn’t. She keep moving on with the story.

Chris: Were you tempted to say anything, or is this the sort of thing they cover in “The Customer Is Always Right” training for booksellers?

Alia: Oh yeah, I considered asking her why she did it as she walked by the counter on her way outside. I didn’t though…and got busy with something else.

After almost three years of bookselling/customer service, as a woman of color, I’ve learned to pick my battles. People often walk up to me and ask “Do you know a lot about the books here?” I’m starting to be more vocal about obvious bias/gatekeepers shutting down diverse books. Respectful…but more honest.

Chris: “Respectful…but more honest.” I like that.

My discussion of race and racism with student audiences has been much more blunt with regard to The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, since race and racism are central to the story that book tells of his life, both before and during Reconstruction. And they’re central to the echoes of that era found in Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement on up through voter-restriction laws enacted in America in the past few years. I talk about all of that when I talk about John Roy Lynch.

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch and Whoosh!, both illustrated by Don Tate

Alia: Yeah. In The Amazing Age, racism in the story is more “obvious,” so I doubt this teacher would’ve picked it up to begin with.

The cover of The Amazing Age tells the audience right away that “This is historical and therefore, IT MIGHT INVOLVE RACISM.” What people do with that visual information is their choice. Whoosh!‘s cover is deceptive when it comes race; a contemporary setting with rockets & water guns. It’s always interesting to see how people interact with covers…Will they pick up the book or walk away? If it has a brown person on the cover, it’s more likely they’ll walk away..BUT I’ve noticed that kids are more open-minded than adults.

Chris: In considering how the teacher in your store avoided the issues of race and racism, I see an opportunity to engage with them all the more — honestly, and with respect for my audience — when I share Whoosh! with students. I can pause at the science fair page, and take a moment to talk a little about George Wallace and that particular episode that occurred in Lonnie Johnson’s home state when he was around the same age as the students I’m talking to. [Note to Bartography readers: I did this for the first time last Wednesday, showing a few photographs from that June 1963 day that ended with Vivian Malone and James Hood enrolled as students at the University of Alabama. The second- through fifth-grade students I was presenting to seemed to handle that additional historical context just fine.]

So, I’ve got to thank you, Alia, for bringing that episode in your store to my attention. And I guess I’ve got to thank that teacher, too — her avoidance of any talk of race or racism is going to have the unintended effect of putting it front and center for a lot of other readers.

Alia: Oh good! I’m glad to hear that! Touching on that more will stress just how much Lonnie had to overcome. Kids of color in the audience, especially, might understand how he felt not being welcome in a white space (even after desegregation). I wonder what his experience was like at NASA. Hidden Figures has me thinking about POC [people of color] experiences there! :)

Thanks for having this discussion with me. Rarely do I get to talk about my bookstore experiences in such a thoughtful and detailed way! :)

15 Dec

A year-end blast of happy Whoosh! news

How Don Tate and I feel when people say nice things about Whoosh!

How Don Tate and I feel when people say nice things about Whoosh!

The end of the year is list-making time — a fact driven home to me each time I come across yet another Top 10 of 2016’s best music that has heretofore eluded my ears. (I’m trying to get caught up, but would certainly welcome your music suggestions in the comments.)

The past few weeks have brought lots of children’s-book lists of various sorts, and it’s been a happy reminder of how much top-quality work is being done by people in this field. It’s been especially nice to see Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (written by me, illustrated by Don Tate, and published by Charlesbridge) mentioned here and there.

Below, I’ve rounded up a few instances that have come to my attention. Thank you to all who have taken the time to evaluate and spread the word about the year’s offerings in children’s literature. The rest of you, please follow those links and find some books you think someone would love to receive from you, OK?

The New York Public Library’s list 2016 picks for the Best Books for Kids includes Whoosh!

The Chicago Public Library has included Whoosh! in its list of the Best Informational Books for Younger Readers of 2016.

Kirkus ReviewsBest Informational Picture Books of 2016 lists Whoosh! among its picks.

The Horn Book leads off its list of Recommended Picture Books: Picture Book Biographies — a companion to its recent article “What Makes a Good Picture Book?” — with Whoosh!

Kid Lit Frenzy and Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook have included Whoosh! among the 2016 informational titles under consideration for their Mock Sibert units.

The National Science Teachers Association and a few other organizations (the American Society for Engineering Education, the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association, the Society of Elementary Presidential Awardees, and the Children’s Book Council) have created an inaugural list of the year’s Best STEM Books, and Whoosh! is among them.

Whoosh! is also among the titles included in Booklist’s Core Collection: Picture-Book Biographies of Scientists.

Finally, Whoosh! is included in the Publishers Weekly ShelfTalker blog’s Joyful Diversity Collection, “an initial list of wonderful nonfiction picture books to introduce children to … accomplished, but often less well known, individuals.”

02 Nov

Parents magazine calls Whoosh! the year’s best nonfiction picture book

Whoosh!Big news this week from a magazine read by millions of parents: Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (Charlesbridge) has been named the best Nonfiction Picture Book of 2016 by Parents magazine.

I’m so glad that my second collaboration with Don Tate has been honored in this way, especially considering the wealth of top-notch nonfiction picture books published this year. (For instance, check out the nonfiction titles named by Publishers Weekly as being among the best picture books of 2016.) My understanding is that Parents asked librarians and other experts in the literary field to nominate children’s books published this year, and the magazine then ran those books past actual kids, and it was those child readers who came up with Whoosh! and the winners in other categories.

Maybe the newsstand edition of the magazine will have more details about the process, because I’m curious about how pretty much everything in this business works, but regardless I’m pleased and proud and grateful. Thank you, Parents — and thanks, kids.

27 Sep

Whoosh!-ing into Scholastic Reading Club

Whoosh!

I got the news from Charlesbridge last week that my second book with Don Tate, Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, is going to be available as a paperback through Scholastic Reading Club (which used to be known as Scholastic Book Clubs). That means a lot more kids and families are going to be able to have their own copy, and that’s exciting to me.

I haven’t yet seen any of the Scholastic flyers with Whoosh!, and I don’t know which grade level(s) will include the book, so keep an eye out for me, won’t you please?

07 Sep

The newest good news for Whoosh!

Whoosh!

Whoosh! will be among the 230 titles included in the 2016 ABC Best Books for Young Readers catalog put out this fall by the American Booksellers Association. The complete list spans from board books all the way up to YA fiction and nonfiction, and you can view the titles here.

Celebrate Picture Books featured Whoosh! for National Relaxation Day:

The subject of today’s book invented a great way to take advantage of a day off—and also demonstrates that sometimes work and relaxation go hand-in-hand! … Chris Barton’s biography of Lonnie Johnson is a fascinating look at a man who succeeds in turning “No” into “Yes” by the power of his intelligence, ideas, and determination.

Kiss the Book called Whoosh! “essential.”

Children’s Atheneum said Whoosh! “is exactly what I want a picture book biography to be. Informative, engaging, fascinating, and new”

Anastasia Suen featured the book for STEM Friday.

Holly Mueller included Whoosh! in her list of ten Picture Books That Support the Growth Mindset.

The growth mindset model is very important for gifted learners (and of course, every learner). They can make mistakes, continue to grow, and continue to be commended for hard work, not talent/intelligence alone. These books show how mistakes can be made into opportunities, hard work and persistence pay off, and circumstances and talent don’t control destinies.

Finally, Junior Library Guild invited Whoosh! illustrator Don Tate and me to chat about the book during this year’s Texas Library Association conference. Here’s a bit of that conversation:

01 Sep

“We succeed anyway,” and lots more from Lonnie Johnson

Whoosh!

If you know a reader who has enjoyed Whoosh! — or if you yourself have enjoyed it — I urge you to check out this recent BBC interview with Lonnie Johnson.

In it, Lonnie goes into greater detail about many aspects of the story Don Tate and I tell in Whoosh!. He also offers up anecdotes that he shared with us but which we didn’t include.

One of my favorites of the latter:

I put together a working engine out of parts from a scrapyard, and we stuck that engine on one of our go-karts. It had thin wagon wheels instead of tyres, and the hood was just a crate. You controlled the steering with a piece of string. It was not perfect. We had to push the car to get it going, but after that it could sustain itself. And we had a lot of fun with it — though we were stopped by the police, because the vehicle was not exactly street-legal.

I also appreciated this, which I know will resonate with lots of Whoosh! readers:

I also take [Super Soakers] into schools to give talks. Kids need exposure to ideas, and they need to be given an opportunity to experience success. Once you get that feeling, it grows and feeds itself — but some kids have got to overcome their environments and attitudes that have been imposed on them. In spite of the things that have been perpetrated on my race — holding us in bondage under slavery, then making it illegal to educate us and then subjecting us to long-term discrimination and criticism — we succeed anyway, to a very large extent. We just need to realise what we’re capable of.

31 Aug

August 2016 Bartography Express: The smashiest, the crashiest — and the animalsiest

To get Bartography Express in your inbox each month — and to have a shot at the September giveaway of This Is Our Baby, Born Today, written by Varsha Bajaj and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler — you can sign up on my home page.

20160827 Bartography Express

13 Jul

A Whoosh! of good news

WHOOSH picnic

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…