Friday, December 11, 2015

The Rain Wizard: Scientist or Fraud?

           Because I love a good history mystery, I was immediately attracted to Larry Dane Brimner’s latest nonfiction title, The Rain Wizard: The Amazing, Mysterious, True Life of Charles Mallory Hatfield.  Here is the story of a man who claimed he could “coax” rain from the sky, using a secret mix of chemicals.  And . . . he was remarkably successful.  But was he a charlatan and a fraud?  Were all his methods simply a scheme for making money from desperate cities and farming areas suffering from drought? Or, was he—as he claimed—a scientist?
            After narrating this story, the author leaves us to ponder this question: “Did Hatfield hold some secret formula that caused the clouds to weep?” (p. 103).  Brimner tells us that whether Hatfield could indeed produce rain remains a mystery, but what he did produce was hope for people desperate for rain. So, in effect, we can only use available evidence to speculate.  Brimner’s bibliography provides us sources for continuing our search for this evidence.
            In addition to the intriguing mystery element, this book is beautifully formatted, clearly written, and has many, many large black and white, tinted photographs that can be carefully examined. If you are looking for ideas for using these photographs with students, check out the five-minute video from the New York State Archives on teaching with photographs at
            It was truly a pleasure to read this well-designed, interesting book. I hope that Larry Dane Brimner and Calkins Creek publishers keep these nonfiction books coming.

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