Considering that I’ve worked with Ekua Holmes, Victo Ngai, Don Tate, Troy Cummings, Ashley Spires, and Tom Lichtenheld, among other artists, today’s question is a great one.
A year ago this week, after some pondering on my part, I asked an editor of mine about the possibility of getting one of my picture books translated into Spanish.
It turned out to be more than possible: Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions is coming out next spring as ¡Fushhh! El chorro de inventos súper húmedos de Lonnie Johnson.
Even better, we’ve just found out that it’s a Junior Library Guild selection.
Next time I wonder to myself whether a Spanish version is worth bringing up to my editor, you can bet I’ll be keeping this in mind — and then asking aloud.
I love getting mail. Getting mail was one of my very favorite things when I was a kid. Even today, when the ratio of Exciting Things in the Mail to Not-At-All-Exciting Things in the Mail is completely lopsided in a way that other adults can surely relate to, I remain hopeful each day that something good will arrive.
A few weeks ago (and three out-of-town trips ago, hence my delay in posting this), a package arrived from the Children’s Literature Association of Utah
that definitely fell under the Exciting Things in the Mail category:
The plaque contained in that package informed me that Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (Charlesbridge), written by me and illustrated by Don Tate, is the 2018 winner of the Beehive Book Award for informational books.
The informational Beehive recognizes books appropriate for readers (and voters!) from grades 3 through 9. I think that speaks to how well picture book nonfiction can provide valuable information to readers commonly thought to have “outgrown” picture books.
But that wasn’t the only good news for Whoosh!
Washington State readers between grades 2 and 6 voted for Whoosh! as the winner of the 2018 Towner Award for informational books. The sponsoring Washington Library Association did a thorough, generous job creating curriculum tie-ins for each of the year’s ten nominees. You can see their work here. And educators in Washington also chose Whoosh! for, appropriately enough, their Educators’ Choice award.
What’s more, Whoosh! has been named to:
- the Arkansas Diamond Primary Book Award 2018-2019 Reading List, sponsored by the Arkansas Department of Education, the Arkansas State Library, and the Arkansas Literacy Association,
- the nominees for the 2019 Elementary Nutmeg Book Award, to be chosen by readers in Connecticut,
- the 2019 Illinois Bluestem Readers’ Choice Award Nominees Master List, sponsored by the Association of Illinois School Library Educators, and
- the list of nominees for the 2018-19 Beverly Cleary Children’s Choice Award sponsored by the Oregon Association of School Libraries.
Putting together state lists such as these — and encouraging the reading of the books on such lists — is one of the most crucial ways that librarians and literacy professionals get new books onto the minds and into the hands of young readers. A lot of hard, thoughtful work is involved, and I appreciate every bit of it. Thank you all.
Don and I don’t have a third book together, but we do both have new books, and our home city’s daily newspaper featured them both, along with several other new titles.
And Don and I both have events coming up in Austin.
Next Sunday, August 27, Don will be launching Strong As Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became The Strongest Man On Earth at 3 p.m. at the University of Texas’ Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports.
Then, at BookPeople at 6:30 p.m. on September 7, I’ll be reading from and signing Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion.
We’re both hoping for a strong showing, and we’ll each do our best to dazzle our audience. (Sorry.)
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.
I get that question a lot after talking with students about — and reading to them — The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch. And I guess I should have anticipated that question, considering that William figures prominently in the book’s first few pages, not only in my text but also in Don Tate’s art:
But the answer I’ve had for that question must be as unsatisfying as they come: “I don’t know.”
A slightly more elaborate answer would be, “I never did learn much, and it’s been long ago enough since I researched this book that I’ve had time to forget a lot of things I knew.” Which, let’s face it, isn’t any more satisfying to a kid with a burning — and, at least to them, obvious — question.
So, I’ve dug back into some of my research materials, and here’s what I can tell you about William Lynch.
John Roy Lynch’s autobiography, Reminiscences of an Active Life, mentions William by name only three times.
After his father’s death, John Roy Lynch recounts an initial conversation between his mother, Catherine, and the family’s new owner, Alfred Vidal Davis, at Tacony Plantation. In that conversation, Davis tells Catherine, “Upon my return I shall have you and your children live with me and my family — you to be one of our housemaids and your oldest boy, William, to be a dining-room servant, and the other boy, John, I shall take for my own valet.”
In Natchez after the family’s emancipation, John Roy writes, “My brother had secured employment at army headquarters, as an attendant upon General W. Q. Gresham, the general in command of the Union troops there at that time. … My mother was an excellent cook and in that capacity she frequently earned a good sum of money in the course of a month, but the employment was not continuous and permanent, hence the income from that source was uncertain and doubtful. It was absolutely necessary, therefore, that my brother and I should do something to assist in meeting the expense of the home.”
The other reference is in historian John Hope Franklin’s introduction to the book, when discussing John Roy Lynch’s real-estate transactions in the Natchez area between 1869 and 1905: “Lynch’s brother, William, was involved in some of the transactions and perhaps served as his attorney and business manager.” A footnote explains further, “In several of the transactions William Lynch is the grantor, the ‘agent and attorney’ for John R. Lynch, or the plantation lessor.”
I don’t see a US Census record for William Lynch after this one from 1880, in which he was listed as an unmarried, 36-year-old planter in Natchez.
But if I were going to research The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch all over again, knowing how curious many readers are about William Lynch, I would want to know how far his trail extends beyond 1880. My first step would be to spend some time with those property purchase and sale records. And for that, I would start with the office of the chancery clerk in Adams County, Mississippi.
If any student projects result from that tip, I’d love to hear what they find.
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!
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.
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! :)
Texas students in grades 3 through 6 will be voting this month for their 2016-17 Texas Bluebonnet Award favorites, and one of the many blessings of having The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch on this year’s list is that it has given me the opportunity to talk about the book at scores of schools in my home state.
I often read the book in its entirety to audiences, and when I’ve finished the text on this page —
When the Altamont chugged away, taking its crew home to the North, John Roy could have gone along. He had the choice to stay or go, and he chose to stay. Natchez was his home. Fellow former slaves reveled in the promises of freedom — family, faith, free labor, land, education. John Roy wanted to be part of that.
— I stop.
“How many of you,” I ask, “knowing only what you know now at this point in the story, and knowing only what John Roy Lynch himself knew at this point in his life, would have gone on to the North with the crew of the Atlamont?”
Sometimes two or three hands go up. Sometimes, it’s only one. Often, no one in the audience says they would have headed north.
“And raise your hand if you would have chosen to stay — to participate in those promises of freedom: family…”
By this point, at least some hands are already held high.
Pretty much every child in the room has a hand aloft by this moment. And each and every time, I take that as a sign of hope.
You see, I know what happens next in the story. I know what became of these “promises of freedom” in the South immediately after the Civil War.
As I put it in the text on the very next page, “Freedom, however, soon turned sour. Mississippi whites passed laws to make Mississippi blacks into slaves under different names: ‘Apprentices.’ ‘Vagrants.’ ‘Convicts.'” Don Tate’s art on that next page depicts a whipping in progress, and a lynching about to occur.
Students often gasp when we get to that next page.
But on the page before, as the Altamont heads off into that beautiful sunset, the children in the room are guided by their optimism, by their sense of fairness and what’s right, by an innate belief in what should happen next. Of course it should be freedom. Of course.
I am, by nature, an optimist. I think I’m a realist, too, but when viewing that reality I tend to err on the side of expecting good and hopeful things to happen. For many people I know, however, this year has begun with such expectations deeply challenged.
Maybe that describes you, too.
I wish you could experience that feeling I get when I share the “When the Altamont chugged away…” spread of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch with children. When I see by the show of hands their expectations of progress, justice, and equality, how could I not be optimistic?
And at the same time, how could I not be determined to do what I can in my life — to do the work — to help make their expectations more often come to pass?
Jennifer surprised me last month with an early Christmas present. And she had help from Don. Unbeknownst to me, she got a piece of his original artwork from The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch framed and snuck into our house.
It now resides on our living room wall, where it will serve as a daily reminder of what the young people in Texas and elsewhere in this country expect from me, from you, from us, and from our future.
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 Reviews‘ Best 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!
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.”