April 9 – National Inventor’s Month

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established by the United Inventors Association of the USA, the Academy of Applied Science, and Inventor’s Digest Magazine to promote awareness of and celebrate the achievements of those creative individuals who make our lives better—or, in some cases, at least interesting. Every day there are kids and adults, professionals and amateurs pondering solutions to problems and just “what ifs?” Would you like to join them? You can celebrate this month by acting on one of your great ideas and by learning more about inventors like the subject of today’s book!

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

Written by Chris Barton | Illustrated by Don Tate

 

Lonnie Johnson had a way with stuff. In his hands bolts and screws, gears and springs, spools, clothespins, “spare parts his dad let him bring in from the shed, and various other things he’d hauled back from the junkyard” fueled Lonnie’s ideas for inventions and rocket ships. The kids at school loved to watch him launch the rockets he’d devised on the playground. Lonnie wanted to have a career as an engineer. Getting there took a lot of determination and courage. Once, the results of a standardized test said that he would not make a good engineer. Lonnie felt discouraged, but he knew that the person who had graded his test didn’t know him—or Linex.

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Image copyright Don Tate, courtesy of charlesbridge.com

Linex was the robot Lonnie had built from scrap metal. “Compressed–air cylinders and valves allowed Linex’s body to turn and its arms to move. The switches came from an old, broken jukebox. Lonnie used a tape recorder to program Linex, and as a bonus the reels looked like eyes.” Lonnie’s goal was to enter Linex in a science fair, but first he wanted to be able to program it. It took several years before he discovered how. Using his little sister’s walkie-talkie, Lonnie solved the problem and took Linex to the “1968 science fair at the University of Alabama—where only five years earlier, African American students hadn’t even been allowed.” Lonnie’s team won first place.

Lonnie went to college at Tuskegee Institute, where he realized his dream of becoming an engineer. His career “took him beyond Alabama—way beyond.”  He went to work for NASA. Before the orbiter Galileo could be sent to Jupiter, Lonnie developed a system that would ensure the craft would have a constant supply of power for its computer memory in case the main power was lost. Some fellow scientists doubted his idea would work, but it did. “As it photographed Jupiter and its moons, Galileo was supported by the power package that Lonnie designed.”

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Image copyright Don Tate, courtesy of charlesbridge.com

Even though Lonnie worked for NASA, he continued tinkering with his own ideas—in his own workshop. One problem he was trying to solve involved the need for the world’s refrigerators and air conditioners to have a cooling system that didn’t use the damaging chemical R-12. “He had an idea for using water and air pressure instead.” He built a prototype and experimented with it in his bathroom sink. When he turned his pump and nozzle on, though, he got a surprise as a stream of water blasted across the room.

Suddenly, Lonnie saw another use for his invention—as a water gun. He created a design small enough for children’s hands, and tested it at a picnic, where it was a hit. Lonnie took his idea to a toy company…and another…and another. Finally one company agreed to make his water gun. Spurred on by this success, Lonnie found investors to help him build other original inventions: “a water-propelled toy airplane, two kinds of engines, and his cooling system” that had led to the water gun. He even quit his day job to devote his time to inventing.

But things don’t always work out. Each project fell through—even the water gun. It was a scary time as he and his family had to move out of their house and into an apartment. But Lonnie believed in himself. He took his water gun to another toy company. In 1989 he found a toy company willing to take a look. Lonnie made the trip to Philadelphia and wowed the executives with his invention.

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Image copyright Don Tate, courtesy of charlesbridge.com

Now kids everywhere enjoy the fun of the Super Soaker. Today, Lonnie can be found in his workshop doing what he loves: “facing challenges, solving problems and building things” because “his ideas just keep on flowing.”

Chris Barton’s biography of Lonnie Johnson is a fascinating look at a man who succeeds in turning “No” into “Yes” by the power of his intelligence, ideas, and determination. Kids will love hearing about how one of their favorite toys came to be and will be inspired to chase their own dreams despite challenges and setbacks. Barton’s detailed narration provides a full picture of Lonnie Johnson and his times, specifics that attract and inform like-minded kids. Including the results of Lonnie’s exam should encourage kids who think differently. The story is enhanced by the conversational tone that makes it accessible to kids of all ages.

Don Tate illuminates Lonnie Johnson’s life story with his bold, full-bleed paintings that follow Lonnie from his being a child with big ideas to becoming a man who has seen these ideas through to success. With an eyebrow raised in concentration, young Lonnie demonstrates confidence and skill as he works on an invention, and kids will love seeing the tools of his trade laid out on the kitchen table. With his eyes narrowed in frustration and disappointment, Lonnie reads the results of his childhood exam. As Lonnie grows older and designs systems for NASA, the illustrations depict the schematics of the Galileo power package and Lonnie’s surprise at the strength of the water stream in his prototype cooling design. As all kids know, the spurt of a Super Soaker is awesome, and this fact is demonstrated in a “Wowing” fold-out page.

WHOOSH! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions is a welcome biography of the man who designs systems for the greater world but has never lost his youthful enthusiasm to invent.

Ages 5 – 10

Charlesbridge, 2016 | ISBN 978-1580892971

Check out more fiction and nonfiction books by Chris Barton on his website!

Discover more books written and illustrated by Don Tate as well as a portfolio of his work and book-related activity guides on his website!

National Inventor’s Month Activity

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Invention Dot-to-Dot Puzzles

 

Many inventions have changed the world and continue to be used long after they were first created. Connect the dots on these printable puzzles to discover three remarkable inventions!

Invention Dot-to-Dot 1 | Invention Dot-to-Dot 2 | Invention Dot-to-Dot 3

Picture Book Review

January 17 – Kid Inventors’ Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday celebrates all those ingenious kids who have improved the world with their inventions. This date was chosen to commemorate another child inventor—Benjamin Franklin—who designed the first swim fins when he was just 12 years old! (Seriously, is there nothing this man didn’t or couldn’t do?). With their supple minds and can-do attitudes, kids have changed the ways things are done in the fields of medicine, technology, communications, and even food—as today’s book shows! To learn more about the day and find resources for young inventors, visit the K.I.D website.

The Hole Story of the Doughnut

Written by Pat Miller | Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch

 

In 1844 at the tender age of 13, Hanson Gregory left the family farm and went to sea as a cabin boy on the schooner Isaac Achorn. He quickly became the cook’s assistant and also learned how to rig the sails and “steer a ship over trackless waves by sun and stars.” By the age of 19 Gregory had become the captain of the schooner Hardscrabble, and within a few more years was racing “his cargo from Maine to California as commander of a clipper, the fastest ship on any ocean.”

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Image copyright Vincent X. Kirsch, courtesy of vincentxkirsch.com

Hanson Gregory may have been one of the best captains to sail the seas—once awarded a medal for heroism for rescuing seven shipwrecked Spanish sailors even though his own ship and crew were endangered. But his greatest achievement was not attained because of his seafaring skills—it was his ingenuity in the galley that people remember.

On June 22, 1847 as a 16-year-old cook’s assistant, Hanson was rustling up the crew’s breakfast—coffee and fried cakes, the same as every morning. While the pot of lard bubbled on the stove, Gregory formed balls of sweetened dough and dropped them in. They sizzled and crisped—at least around the edges. The centers were raw, heavy with grease, and they dropped like cannonballs in the stomach. “Sailors called them Sinkers.” But this morning Gregory had an idea. He removed the lid from the pepper can and cut out the center of the balls. “Then he tossed the rings into the bubbling lard.”

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Image copyright Vincent X. Kirsch, courtesy of vincentxkirsch.com

The cook and the sailors took one look at this odd concoction and…ate them up! “The cakes were brown, and sweet, and fully cooked. Sighs of delight rose above the noisy sea. A new breakfast tradition was born.” Gregory told his mom about his invention, and she fried up large batches of these ‘holey cakes’ that became a sensation at a friend’s store and on the docks.

You might think this is a pretty interesting tale in itself, “but sailors like their stories bold” and so they “spun legends worthy of such a delicious treat.” One tale had Captain Gregory inventing the doughnut while he saved his ship from disaster. Another told how Gregory, distraught over the drowning of five sailors pulled to the ocean floor by their “sinker” breakfast, punched holes in every cake to make them look like life rings and vowed, “‘Never again!’”

Captain Gregory had a sense of humor about his accomplishment. During an interview he once stated that “he had invented ‘the first hole ever seen by mortal eyes.’” Gregory lived to be 89 and is buried “overlooking the sea where stormy weather can be spotted as readily as it once was from the quarterdeck of the Hardscrabble.”

An author’s note expanding on the story of Captain Gregory, the doughnut, doughnut shops, a timeline, and a selected bibliography follow the text.

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Image copyright Vincent X. Kirsch, courtesy of vincentxkirsch.com

Doughnuts have never been so evocative! In Pat Miller’s humorous, informative history of this favorite pastry treat, readers can smell the salt air, feel the ocean swell and roll under their feet, and even ache a little for those poor sailors forced to eat “sinkers.” Seamlessly interwoven into this foodography is a fascinating look at the early days of sail. Miller’s language is immediately stirring: the Ivanhoe bucks and plunges, the sea becomes a monster, and Captain Gregory spears a sinker on the wheel spoke. Kids will marvel at a 13-year-old going off to sea and becoming an inventor at 16.

Vincent X. Kirsch provides just the right touch to this captivating true story with his cartoon-inspired watercolor and cut paper artwork. Ingeniously incorporating Hanson Gregory’s innovation of removing the center of the fried cakes, Kirsch’s illustrations are “cored” to allow for text, while the extracted section appears on the facing page as a glimpse through a porthole. The maritime atmosphere—from ship to shore—of the mid-1800s is beautifully represented in the folk-style sketches, and the humor that is so intrinsic to this story is wonderfully embraced.

The Hole Story of the Doughnut will delight foodies and history buffs alike and would make a fun gift and a delectable addition to personal libraries for all ages.

Ages 5 – 12

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016 | ISBN 978-0544319615

Vincent X. Kirsch’s website is full of illustrations from his books for children—take a look at his portfolio!

Spend some time with Pat Miller on her website that offers activities, tips, resources and many more books!

Kid Inventors’ Day Activity

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CD (Compact Doughnuts) Decoration

 

Are some of  your CDs a little passé? Not if you can turn them into cute décor like this doughnut hanging.

Supplies

  • Unused CDs
  • Craft paint in tan, black, pink, yellow, white (or any colors you want for the doughnut and the icing)
  • Ribbon, any color and length you want
  • Fine-tip markers in bright colors
  • Glue
  • Glue dots (optional)
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint a wavy edge around the CD, let dry
  2. Paint the center of the CD, leaving the clear circle unpainted
  3. When the icing paint is dry, draw sprinkles on the icing with the markers
  4. With the ribbon make a loop hanger and attach it to the back of the CD with glue or glue dots
  5. Hang your decoration

Picture Book Review