FICTION

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

illus. by Don Tate. 32p. ebook available. Charlesbridge. May 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781580892971.
COPY ISBN
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.

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