Earlier this month, my nonfiction picture book Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing), illustrated by Victo Ngai, was named to the Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Program Master List for Grades 3-6 for 2019-2020.
All by itself, that was great news, and immediately I was tremendously thankful for the efforts of the PYCRA committee and for the award’s sponsor, the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association.
And then I thought, “PYCRA — that sounds familiar. Wasn’t Whoosh! on one of those lists?”
I did a little digging, and sure enough, it was. Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (Charlesbridge), illustrated by Don Tate, was on the 2017-2018 PYCRA Master List for Grades 3-6.
But that’s not all I found when I searched my own website for references to the Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Award.
It had slipped my mind that both The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors (Charlesbridge), illustrated by Tony Persiani, and Shark vs. Train (Little, Brown), illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, were on PYCRA Master Lists (in two different categories) in 2011-2012. Shark vs. Train, in fact, had been the Kindergarten-Grade 3 winner that year.
I felt like a dope for those honors having slipped my mind, though I’d certainly appreciated them at the time. I’m going to chalk that memory lapse up to the fact that my knowledge and understanding of the children’s literature world have grown continually during the 18-plus years I’ve been pursuing this work, and that one aspect that it took me a while to grasp was the significance of state awards such as the PYRCA.
I fully appreciate now just how vital state award lists are for getting new books in front of young readers and their librarians. And that appreciation is multiplied by four for the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association.
Lonnie Johnson, the subject of my book Whoosh! (illustrated by Don Tate and published by Charlesbridge), went home to Mobile, Alabama, recently for quite a special occasion.
Lonnie’s alma mater, Williamson High School, is getting a $4 million addition that will include a science center. And it’s going to be called the Lonnie G. Johnson Educational Complex.
On hand for the groundbreaking was Lonnie’s high school science teacher Walter Ward. Of all the quotes in the article about the new learning center and Williamson’s new robotics team, this one from Lonnie stands out:
Having teachers who care is the most important thing you can have for a child. We think it’s just words, but it’s more than words. When you see greatness, they will live up to your expectations. If you have faith in children and believe in them, they will believe in themselves.
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!