The Storm Makers by Jennifer E. Smith

I don’t know what they’re paying Brett Helquist to illustrate a book, but if it’s not a lot, he should demand more. I also don’t know if Mr. Helquist has some kind of magical spell that he places on his illustrations, but I’m telling you that his pictures draw me into a story in a way that seems almost bewitched. I’m reading along, thinking how much I’m enjoying the story, glancing at the illustrations, thinking something looks familiar about them. However, I don’t usually pay much attention to pictures. Then, I get to the end of the book, close it with a satisfied sigh, and idly wonder who the illustrator was. I look and see that it was Brett Helquist, and I try to imagine the book without the added dimension of Mr. Helquist’s drawings. It’s just not the same story without the pictures.

The Storm Makers would be a good book even without illustrations, but with Helquist’s talents, it’s a great book. The twins Ruby and Simon McDuff have moved to a farm in Wisconsin from their previous home in Chicago. Dad wants to be an inventor, and Mom wants to become an artist. And since the move, all Simon can think about is baseball and being with other boys. Ruby misses the way she and her brother used to share everything. Now it feels as if everything is changing, and she and Simon are miles apart even though they live in the same house.

The changes that are coming, however, push Ruby and Simon closer and closer together, even if they’re not sure what to do about the drought and storms that are shaking their little world. Could Simon have a special talent that might put him in great danger? Who is the mysterious stranger hiding out in the old barn? Who can Ruby and Simon trust to tell them the truth about the weather and the world?

I really don’t want to tell you too much more about this book because I want you to enjoy all the twists and turns as much as I did. I was a bit frustrated with the “good guys” and how little information they were willing to share with Ruby and Simon. And of course, you know that “door” that you absolutely know as you’re reading the characters shouldn’t open? Ruby and Simon open it, of course.

Still, if you can get past the refusal of adult mentors to share vital information and the stupidity of the main characters in going where they ought not to go, it really is a great story. Readalikes are Savvy by Ingrid Law, The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, and perhaps 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson. At least, those are the books I was reminded of as I read The Storm Makers. Some budding young scientists may also want to read more nonfiction about weather and how it works after reading The Storm Makers. I’d suggest:

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