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…

01 Apr

Come see Jennifer and me at TLA!

Whenever I try to explain to anyone how much Jennifer Ziegler and I love the annual gathering of the Texas Library Association, I just let them know that when we got married six years ago, the TLA conference in Fort Worth was our honeymoon.

Whether the person I’m talking to is appalled by that choice or totally gets it, there’s no mistaking how strongly we feel about TLA.

And we’re thrilled that this year’s conference will be in our home city of Austin — and that we’re both featured with sessions and signings. Here’s where and when you can find us, and what we’ll be up to (with helpful screenshots from the TLA app):

Monday, April 15

2:45 p.m. The Myth of ‘Girl Books’ and ‘Boy Books’: Exploring Gender Bias with Middle Grade Authors

9C, Level 3

Middle-grade authors explore gender bias and gender diversity in children’s literature, and discuss challenges librarians face in getting diverse stories into the hands of readers regardless of their gender. Learn about resources for locating, evaluating, promoting, and sharing gender diverse texts with readers.

5 p.m. Author Signing with Jennifer Ziegler

Authors Area, Aisle 12

Game-show host/puppet Van

9 p.m. The Van Show

19A, Level 4

Authors Jeff Anderson, Tom Angleberger, Chris Barton, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Shelley Johannes, Stacy McAnulty, Carmen Oliver, Andrew Smith, Jo Whittemore, and Jennifer Ziegler will compete in Van’s Game of Games.

Tuesday, April 16

10 a.m. What Was Left Out: Powered by Pecha Kucha

19B, Level 4

Discovering what was cut from a story can be as informative as what was left in. In this panel, five authors will share how they made crucial decisions that shaped their final stories. The authors will use the fast-paced format called Pecha Kucha which has possibilities for educators and students.

1:30 p.m. Author Signing with Chris Barton

Authors Area, Aisle 2

3:15 p.m. How to Make a Diverse Kid-Lit List

5ABC, Level 3

Youth librarians love to make lists highlighting books and authors. Each list is an opportunity to consider the demographics of who is included – and who is left out. Learn from two veteran librarians and two award winning authors how to make those lists increasingly inclusive and diverse.

Wednesday, April 17

2 p.m. Author Signing with Chris Barton & Don Tate

Charlesbridge Booth #2445

27 Feb

Thank you (again!), Pennsylvania school librarians


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.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

20 Feb

Coming soon to Mobile, AL: the Lonnie G. Johnson Educational Complex

Don Tate’s depiction in Whoosh! of Lonnie and his Williamson High teammates at a 1968 science fair


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.

08 Jan

“How do you get the information for all your nonfiction books?”

At a recent school visit, a student asked about my research process for my nonfiction books such as Whoosh! and Dazzle Ships: Where do I get all that information from?

There’s a lot to say about that, but here’s how I often get started.

13 Nov

¡Fushhh!

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.

04 Sep

When boxes of bookmarks arrive, it must be school-visit season again

Lo and behold, look what showed up on Friday:

Just in time for the start of this year’s school visits, it was our first shipment of our newest two-sided, hers-and-his bookmarks, and I think they’re beautiful.

Jennifer and I will leave these bookmarks for the audiences at each campus where we give presentations, though some lucky students will receive bookmarks from before the publication of Jennifer’s Revenge of the Teacher’s Pets (this past June) and my own What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? (coming three weeks from today).

But those aren’t leftovers — they’re vintage!

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.