If you stop by Picture Book Builders occasionally, it’s no secret that I adore picture book biographies, and also love science. Recently, I discovered a new picture book I can’t wait to share — WHOOSH! LONNIE JOHNSON’S SUPER-SOAKING STREAM OF INVENTIONS (by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate.) And as luck would have it, a few weeks ago I found myself seated next to the talented Don Tate at an SCBWI dinner. Coincidence, I think not!


Don Tate & Suzanne Slade at IL SCBWI conference

So this month I’m very excited to feature WHOOSH!, a picture book gem which shares the true story of how NASA engineer, Lonnie Johnson, invented the Super Soaker water gun.


At the beginning of this wonderful story, Chris Barton shares a bit about Lonnie’s childhood growing up in Alabama, and how he loved to take things apart to see how they worked. Lonnie was also fascinated by rockets, and even tried to mix up a batch of rocket fuel in the kitchen (and nearly burned down the house!)

As Lonnie grew older he dreamed of becoming an engineer, yet an aptitude test he took said that wasn’t the best career choice for him. But Lonnie pursued his dream anyway, and went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering. After many years of working for NASA where he designed important space exploration equipment, while working on a new cooling system Lonnie accidentally invented the Super Soaker gun. (Which happens to be one of the Top Twenty Toys of all time, by the way.)


The engaging text includes quotes from inventor Lonnie Johnson (who’s still living.) It also cleverly introduces readers to scientific terms such as “prototype,” while emphasizing the importance of persistence in the invention process.


As a mechanical engineer who worked on rockets for NASA in my former career, Lonnie’s story is especially meaningful to me as I enjoy learning about the creative process of different inventors and discovering how the inventions we use everyday came to be (case in point, THE INVENTOR’S SECRET.)

No doubt, kids will love WHOOSH! LONNIE JOHNSON’S SUPER-SOAKING STREAM OF INVENTIONS (Charlesbridge), and with starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, reviewers and other adults will love it too!

Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade is the author of more than 100 books. A mechanical engineer by degree, she enjoys writing about science topics and fascinating historical figures. Recent books include: SWISH! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters, A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon, The Daring Dozen, Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, Astronaut Annie, Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, Dangerous Jane, The Music in George's Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue, The Inventor’s Secret, and Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Coming soon -- MARS IS, JUNE ALMEIDA VIRUS DETECTIVE! THE WOMAN WHO DISCOVERED THE FIRST HUMAN CORONAVIRUS, THE UNIVERSE AND YOU, and TBA titles from Calkins Creek, Peachtree, and Random House. Learn more about Suzanne and her books at: www.suzanneslade.com


  1. Thank you! What a fun book to share.

  2. Kids will love this book-I will love it! Thanks for introducing me to it.

  3. My three “kids” are in their late 20s, early 30s, and I think THEY would love this one. I couldn’t even guess how many hot summer afternoons they spent stalking one another, super-soakers at the ready – back in the day. Thanks for this one, Suzanne (and Chris and Don!).

  4. I’ve read this one, and found it both fun and inspiring. As was Don Tate, when he spoke at the library here in Chapel Hill a while back! Thanks so much for sharing this one, Suzanne. Perfect choice for a former rocket engineer! 🙂

  5. Thank you for a good post! Thank you for sharing the story.

  6. The Super soaker is a classic! This is one that all generations will want to read. Grandparents, who’s children had them, parents, who had one themselves, and kids, who want one if they don’t have one yet.

  7. Looks like a great biography and lots of fun!

  8. I guess we should take aptitude tests too seriously!

  9. Super soakers and books are both popular at our house so reading this one is a given!!

  10. I have been meaning to read this for quite some time now. Thanks for the reminder, Suzanne 🙂

  11. I’m sure you won’t have any trouble finding the book, and I’m also sure you’ll enjoy it. Thanks for visiting PBB!

  12. I love this book. Don spoke at a Highlights workshop in September. I agree, he’s a great presenter and illustrator. Chris Barton isn’t so bad either.

  13. Kids–and adults–will love this book! What a fun cover. It draws the reader right in. I met Don Tate at a Highlights Chautauqua workshop years ago and also saw him at the recent Illinois SCBWI conference. He gets around!

  14. One of my favorites too. That’s cool you got to meet him!

    • It’s so great to meet other writers and illustrators. We sit home alone working so much it’s a real treat to see each other at conferences and such and chat. Thanks for commenting Susan! Hope your writing is going well!

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