Super-Soaked Summer Fun with Scientist Lonnie Johnson

BookendsCindy: The name Lonnie Johnson may not be familiar to everyone, but he should be. When I saw Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (2016) by Chris Barton in the Charlesbridge booth at BEA, I let out a whoop. I first learned about Johnson in the Capstone collective biography, African American Scientists (1996), and convinced our 6th-grade science teacher to add him to the  scientists and inventors research unit. Johnson has been a popular subject ever since.

FAMILIES of DEEP textThis picture-book biography captures a young boy’s path to a life of science and invention. Give a curious kid an erector set and the permission to make messes, and you have a budding scientist on your hands—even if a school aptitude test says otherwise. While Johnson’s fame (and hook with middle-school science students) comes from inventing the Super Soaker squirt gun, he has worked with NASA and researched pollution-free ways to harness heat energy. I’m definitely adding Barton’s book to my middle-school collections for our picture-book biography projects and inventor research. For elementary schools and public library collections, the book is a must. I bet the all members of our focus group would review this, especially if we provided them hands-on reviewing of the Super Soaker, too. 😉

African American Inventors from Capstone PressLynn: I’m sure that’s a plan that the whole focus group will happily get behind! I know they’ll love both Lonnie Johnson’s inspiring story and Don Tate’s bright and engaging digital illustrations. The fun starts on the end pages, with diagrams of some of Johnson’s inventions, then moves into kid-pleasing scenes of an energetic young Lonnie and his often disastrous experiments. Everyone’s favorite scene is going to be the fold-out illustration of Johnson demonstrating his Super Soaker to toy company executives. Can you say whoosh?

One of my favorite parts of the book is the author’s note, in which Chris Barton talks about the inspiration for the book: He had met with several librarians who relayed stories of their young patrons believing all scientists to be old white guys. Barton also talks about his interview with Lonnie Johnson, who expressed his goal of inspiring the next generation of scientists and inventors. Surely this wonderful book will help with that cause!

About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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