01 Aug

Whoosh! subject Lonnie Johnson last month at Kennedy Library Forums

As I write this, I’m listening to the audio of Lonnie Johnson’s presentation this past July 20 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Even for someone who knows Lonnie Johnson’s story well, this telling of it is riveting.

For those not quite ready to consume an hour — even a fascinating hour — of the story of the NASA engineer who invented the Super Soaker water gun, might I recommend my picture book biography Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions?

illustrated by Don Tate, published by Charlesbridge

07 Jun

An animated look at what’s inside a Super Soaker

Here’s a fascinating, captivating, three-minute stop-motion video composed of more than 4,000 individual photos of a vintage Super Soaker 100. It’s a must-see for anyone who loved Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (written by me, illustrated by Don Tate, and published by Charlesbridge):

The creator of the video says:

This thing is almost entirely plastic and most parts are permanently glued together. Those features make it very hard to actually restore, but slightly easier to repair. … I am “pumped” this works again…

06 Jul

Thank you, readers in Utah and Washington!

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:

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.

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…

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!

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…

23 Jun

Those other robots have WHAT?

There’s a lot that I love about this recent presentation by Lonnie Johnson — rocket scientist, Super Soaker inventor, and pursuer of solutions to the world’s energy problems.

But my favorite part starts at the 5:22 mark with “When I was a kid…” He goes on to discuss how Lost in Space and Robbie the Robot inspired him as a teenager in the 1960s to build his own robot. Except that…

“Nobody told me that the other robots that I was watching [on TV] had people inside.”

Even if he had known, I doubt he would have let it stop him.

And if you’re thinking that Lonnie Johnson would make a great subject for a picture book biography, Don Tate and I agree. Our book, Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super Stream of Ideas, will be published by Charlesbridge in 2016.