Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions
by Chris Barton; illus. by Don Tate
Primary, Intermediate Charlesbridge 40 pp.
5/16 978-1-58089-297-1 $16.95
e-book ed. 978-1-60734-640-1 $9.99
From childhood, African American inventor Johnson was a tinkerer: “Lonnie loved building and creating. Ideas for inventions just kept on flowing.” We learn about how young Lonnie made model rockets — and rocket fuel (“When it caught fire in the kitchen, Lonnie’s mom didn’t make him stop. She just sent him to work outside”) — and how in 1968 the robot he built won first place at a science fair held at the University of Alabama, “where only five years earlier, African American students hadn’t even been allowed.” We learn of his college life at Tuskegee Institute (he was known to study even during his own parties, complete with a light-and-sound system he created); his breakthrough engineering work for NASA; and his development of a super-blast water gun. Barton describes Johnson’s ups and downs before he finally sold his Super Soaker to a toy company, but the straightforward text has a generally upbeat, you-can-do-it attitude. Tate’s clear digital illustrations, with their time-period-appropriate details in décor and clothing (from pegged jeans to bell-bottoms to cut-off shorts with knee socks) help situate readers; there’s no timeline provided (or even a birth year for Johnson). An appended note discusses Barton’s inspiration — to draw attention to diversity within the scientific community — and encourages readers to “put this book down, step away from the computer screen, and get permission to take something apart.” Terrific front and back end-papers provide simple schematics of some of Lonnie Johnson’s inventions.
From the July/August 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.