Thursday, December 22, 2016


written by Chris Barton; illustrated by Don Tate
2016 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Orange County Public Library

But Lonnie had dealt with challenges all his life. He knew a lot about solving problems. 

I looked up the definition of the word impressive. It says "creating admiration, awe, respect, etc." I have all of that and more for Lonnie Johnson after reading Whoosh!. As a child, he was impressive. He constantly invented using materials from his dad's shed and stuff he had hauled from the junkyard. Lonnie built his own rockets from scratch! I couldn't even get my store-bought rocket to work when I was a kid. Overcoming obstacles became a theme of his life. Despite the results of an unfavorable exam, Lonnie did not stop pursuing his dream of becoming an engineer. Instead, he created a robot named Linex. This robot was made out of scrap metal and used compressed-air cylinders and valves to allow movement. With Linex, his high school science team won a 1968 science fair at the University of Alabama. Think about that. Alabama. 1968. George Wallace. If you know your history, you realize what an amazing feat this was for a team of African American students. And shame on you if you don't know your history. As an adult, Lonnie was impressive. After graduating from Tuskegee Institute, Lonnie went on to work for NASA where he solved the problem of how to create a backup power package for the Galileo spacecraft. One day, Lonnie was working on building a more environmentally friendly cooling system for refrigerators and air conditioners. It was this process that led to his invention of the Super Soaker. But success didn't come immediately as challenge after challenge had to be defeated before Lonnie found a company that would help him create his product. Today, Lonnie keeps inventing and inspiring children to overcome obstacles as he has in his life. Check out this August 2016 interview with the BBC for more impressive details about Lonnie.

Speaking of impressive, I also have admiration and awe for the work of Chris Barton and Don Tate. Whoosh! is what picture book biographies should aspire to be. Bringing to our attention, both children and adults, the lives of inspiring people like Lonnie Johnson is important work. How many students will read this book and start on their own impressive journeys? How great to shatter myths about what scientists should look like? I can't wait to share this book with students who will be working on their biography units. They will love this story.

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