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

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions
by Chris Barton

Illustrated by Don Tate

Readers Theater

Book Trailer

Author Interview

Illustrator Interview

Related Activities & Resources:

Informational Resources:

Author Information:

Chris Barton FAQ:

Chris Barton home page:

Chris Barton blog:

Interview with Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators:

Parent Teacher Organization interview:

Nerdy Book Club interview:

Illustrator Information:

Don Tate Web Page:

Illustrator Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith:

Illustrator Twitter account:

Illustrator Interview with Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators: https://austin.scbwi.org/2014/01/28/interview-with-don-tate/

Illustrator Blog:

Illustrator Activity/Discussion Guides:

Activities & Resources:


Water Guns:

Timeline of the History of the Super Soaker:

How to Make a Water Gun:

Homemade Water Guns:

Creative Fun:

How to Build a Bottle Rocket:

Recycled Crafts:

Science Fair Ideas:

Science Buddies Science Fair Projects:

All Science Fair Projects:

Science Kids Science Fair Projects:

Science Fair Project Ideas:


Types of Engineering Jobs:

If possible, talk with an engineer. Ask about their job. What type of engineer are they? Has their job description changed?



Jumbled Jets-put them in the correct order:

Make a planet mask:

NASA Kids Clubhouse – Puzzles, Space Lunch, Color Pages, and more:

Windows to the Universe Just for Fun Games– – Gather junk in space; Planet sudoku and more:

Illustrated Graphic of Spacecraft Galileo:

The Environment:

A Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change:

Graphic Look at Greenhouse Gases:

What is Climate Change?:


Scale Drawing-Brain POP:

Draw a blueprint for a treehouse or maybe an invention, either by hand or use an app. Look at the endpapers in Whoosh! for examples.

10 Great Inventions Dreamt Up by Children:

A Guide to Filing a Design Patent Application:

MakerSpace Activities:

Build a bridge with marshmallows and toothpicks that is strong enough to hold a matchbox car.

Use newspapers to build a chair that is strong enough to support you.

Construct a roller coaster for a ping pong ball using drinking straws and clay.

Use aluminum foil to design a boat that really floats.

Build marble runs out of cardboard tubes, plastic pipe, or swimming noodles.

Design a “robot” out of cardboard and other recyclable materials.

Discussion Questions:

Do you have an idea for an invention – something you would like to improve or something totally new?

When he was a boy, do you think Lonnie had a lot of friends? Why or why not?

What do you think it was like to be Lonnie’s brother or sister when he was growing up? How about his parents?

How might Lonnie’s life have been different if after the kitchen fire his Mother had forbade him from conducting any more experiments?

The results of Lonnie’s career exam showed that he would not make a very good engineer. How would you have reacted – followed your dream anyway or changed what you wanted to study in college?

If you could build a robot, what tasks would you have it do? What would you name it?

Lonnie built things from scrap materials and stuff he found at the junkyard. Have you made anything out of recycled materials? If so, what?

Why do you think the author repeated the phrase “he stood out”, when describing Lonnie at school in Tuskegee? Was it effective?

When working on the power supply issue for the Galileo probe, some of the scientists didn’t think Lonnie’s idea would work. Have you ever had to convince someone that you had the best solution to a problem? If yes, describe the situation.

Have you ever taken something apart to see how it worked? If yes, what was it? Were you able to put it back together? If not, is there something you’d like to take apart?

What do you think of the title of this book? If you could change it, what would it be?

What did you think of the fold-out page with the words Whoosh and Wow? Did it add to the fun of the story?

Can you think of a better name for the water gun than Super Soaker?

Have you ever used a Super Soaker? What was that like?

Did you notice the play on words in the subtitle and in the last sentence of the book? Was this technique effective?

Have you competed in a Science Fair? Do you think you would ever attempt to make a robot like Lonnie did?

Lonnie quit his job to devote all his time to inventing and selling this idea for the Super Soaker. What do you think about that? Would you have had the faith in your invention to do that?

If you were the Toy Company and Lonnie came to ask you to invest in his invention, what kinds of questions would you ask?

What qualities of Lonnie’s helped him become so successful as an engineer and as an inventor? Do you think he was born with them or how did he develop them?

Book Talk Teasers:

Show a pile of “junk” and recyclable materials and get input for what could be done with the stuff. Then show photos of some of Lonnie’s inventions.

Read the Readers Theater.

Read Alikes:


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McCarthy, Meghan. Earmuffs for everyone!: how Chester Greenwood became known as the inventor of earmuffs. “This picture book biography of Chester Greenwood explores the invention of the earmuffs and the patenting process”–. (NoveList Plus)

McCully, Emily Arnold. Marvelous Mattie: how Margaret E. Knight became an inventor. Mattie Knight loved to make things ranging from a foot warmer for her mother or toys for her older brothers. Or, when she was 12, a metal guard to prevent shuttles from shooting off looms and hurting workers. Later, Mattie invented a machine that could cut and glue the square-bottomed paper bags we still use today. Meet the woman known as “the Lady Edison.” (NoveList Plus)

Shabazz, Ilyasah. Malcolm Little: the boy who grew up to become Malcolm X. Describes how young Malcolm’s optimism and faith were challenged by intolerance and a series of tragedies that compelled him to learn self-reliance and how to embrace his individuality to reach his highest potential. (NoveList Plus)

Sis, Pete. The tree of life: a book depicting the life of Charles Darwin, naturalist, geologist & thinker. Presents the life of the famous nineteenth-century naturalist using text from Darwin’s writings and detailed drawings by Sis. (NoveList Plus)

Woodson, Jacqueline. Brown girl dreaming. In vivid poems that reflect the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, an award-winning author shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both the North and the South. (NoveList Plus)

Biographies; Culture and customs:

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Biographies; History books:

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Hill, Laban Carrick. Dave, the potter. Chronicles the life of Dave, a nineteenth-century slave who went on to become an influential poet, artist, and potter. (NoveList Plus)

Myers, Walter Dean. Ida B. Wells: let the truth be told. Award-winning author Myers tells the story of legendary civil rights figure Ida B. Wells, who fought to make the lives of African Americans better long before the events of the 20th century. (NoveList Plus)

Biographies; History books; Narrative nonfiction for kids and teens:

Pinkney, Andrea Davis. Dear Benjamin Banneker. Describes the life of America’s first Black scientist, Benjamin Banneker, who published his own almanac, helped survey the site for the nation’s capital, and spoke out against slavery. (NoveList Plus)

Rockwell, Anne F. Only passing through: the story of Sojourner Truth. Presents a biography of the woman who was born a slave with no status and became one of the most powerful voices in the abolitionist movement. (NoveList Plus)

Winter, Jonah. Roberto Clemente: pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Presents the life of the legendary athlete from Puerto Rico who became one of the most respected baseball players of all time and the first Latino inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. (NoveList Plus)

Biographies; Narrative nonfiction for kids and teens; Picture books for children; Sports and recreation:

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Biographies; Sports and recreation:

Hubbard, Crystal.The last Black king of the Kentucky Derby: the story of Jimmy Winkfield. “A biography of Jimmy Winkfield, who battled racism and other obstacles on the road to becoming one of horse racing’s best jockeys and, in 1902, the last African American to win the Kentucky Derby”. (NoveList Plus)

Narrative nonfiction for kids and teens; Sports and recreation:

Coy, John. Game changer: John McLendon and the secret game. Relates the story of a basketball game in segregated 1944 North Carolina when a team from a white college played Coach John McLendon’s North Carolina College of Negroes team. (NoveList Plus)

Nelson, Kadir. We are the ship: the story of Negro League baseball. Satchel Paige, Hank Aaron, Josh Gibson, Jackie Robinson. These men are some of baseball’s all-time greatest players, but in the days of segregation, none of them could get a job with a professional team. In a voice that sounds like an old ballplayer telling a tale, this book’s narrator tells all about how and why baseball’s Negro Leagues began, how their brand of baseball was unique, what players’ lives on the road were like, and much more. (NoveList Plus)

Rosenstock, Barb.The streak: how Joe Dimaggio became America’s hero. Chronicles the story of the legendary baseball star, his favorite bat, Betsy Ann, and the longest hitting streak in baseball history, which united the country on the brink of World War II. (NoveList Plus)

Book Reviews:

Horn Book    

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. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ.  From the July/August 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.   Reprinted from The Horn Book Magazine by permission of The Horn Book, Inc.,www.hbook.com

School Library Journal

BARTON, Chris. Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions. illus. by Don Tate. 32p. ebook available. Charlesbridge. May 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781580892971.

Gr 2-5-As a child, Lonnie Johnson was a “tinkerer,” or an avid collector of pieces and parts-all things that were considered scrap but that to Johnson were perfectly ripe for new applications. Early projects included rockets, a robot, and a powerful sound system for parties. Johnson’s engineering degree took him to NASA, where he worked on the Galileo orbiter and probe. What Johnson really wanted to do, however, was build his own inventions. When trying to find an environmentally friendly solution to refrigerator and air-conditioning cooling systems, he stumbled upon what would eventually become his opus, the Super Soaker. Readers follow the many obstacles and setbacks Johnson experienced as he tirelessly worked to launch his invention. The narrative-based primarily on personal interviews the author had with Johnson-adeptly captures the passion and dedication necessary to be an engineer. The cartoonlike illustrations, rendered digitally with Manga Studio, combine child appeal with enough realism to accurately convey various scientific elements. Great care is taken to portray the institutional racism Johnson experienced, such as school tests that tried to dissuade his interest in engineering and his competing in a 1968 science fair in the newly desegregated but unwelcoming University of Alabama. The author’s note explains Barton’s mission to diversify common perceptions of what scientists and engineers look like and who they can be. This engaging and informative picture book exploration of Johnson’s life succeeds in that right. VERDICT Highly recommended for STEM and maker collections.-Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher’s School, Richmond, VA © Copyright 2016.  Reprinted with permission from School Library Journal,  Copyright 2016.

Booklist (May 1, 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 17))

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions.  Barton, Chris (author). Illustrated by Don Tate. May 2016. 32p. Charlesbridge, hardcover, $16.95 (9781580892971). Grades 1-4. 609.2. REVIEW. First published May 1, 2016 (Booklist).

This picture book biography tells the story of Lonnie Johnson, kid rocket launcher, teen robot builder, adult NASA engineer, and inventor of the Super Soaker water toy. The story documents his perseverance in overcoming obstacles, some stemming from being African American—a school aptitude test that indicated he was not cut out to be an engineer, the prejudice he and his high-school team experienced while winning the 1968 University of Alabama science fair, and professional doubts concerning his abilities. The narrative also covers his initial failure at becoming a self-employed entrepreneur, remedied only by the hard-won success of the Super Soaker. 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 left-over electronics). This upbeat tribute makes an engaging and inspiring addition to STEM collections. — Kathleen McBroom.  (Used with the permission of Booklist)