Subscribe to The Horn Book

Review of Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions

barton_whooshWhoosh!: 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.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.



  1. I love Lonnie, when I was young my mom would show me his works and I would be doing the same thing. Taking things apart and trying to put them back together. I brought that interest about building stuff till I grew old. That should explain why I am an Engineer now.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind