Danny Dunn and the Weather Machine
by Jay Williams & Raymond Abrashkin
Cover Artist: Ezra Jack Keats
Review by Paul Haggerty
Wildside Press Kindle Edition ISBN/ITEM#: B01BU0PROC
Date: February 15, 2016
Danny Dunn and the Weather Machine is the fourth volume of the Danny Dunn series, and the last one to be co-written by Raymond Abrashkin, who passed away shortly after the book was written. In tribute to his writing partner, Jay Williams insisted Abrashkin continue to be listed as a co-author on all the remaining books in the series.
This time around, Professor Bulfinch has invented a device capable of transmitting energy through the air, thus avoiding the need for all the networks of wires we take for granted. Think WiFi for electricity. So far he has the transmitter working but is called away to Washington while he's still refining it. Unexpectedly, but with satisfying coincidence, this transmitter ends up dovetailing nicely with the trio's new interest in weather forecasting. The town of Midston, and the surrounding countryside, is suffering from a severe drought and Danny, Joe, and Irene hope to cool down at the local swimming hole. When that hope is dashed by the swimming hole having gone dry, the trio is forced to walk home disappointed. In the process, they come across a radiosonde, drifting down from the clear sky on a parachute. This discovery leads to the NOAA weather station at Midston airport, where they meet the on-duty meteorologist and get a crash course in how weather forecasting used to be done back before satellites provided instant data across the whole country.
Intending to build their own home weather station, they return to Danny's house, where they are introduced to the professor's invention. Taking the professor's warning to be careful with the transmitter to heart, Danny agrees not to touch it, having Irene and Joe tinker with it instead. Such is the logic of a teenager. Taking the transmitter to the kitchen they accidentally find that if they aim the power transmitting nozzles at the steam rising from a tea kettle, it forms a storm cloud which rains on the stove. And, given that there's a drought going on, it should come as no surprise that these two facts come together by the end, saving the day, and proving once again that science always triumphs.
Driving the path to saving the countryside is the typical Danny Dunn antics where, out of true scientific investigation, Danny and his friends end up causing a certain degree of mischief and damage, then spend the remainder of the book fixing the problems they created in the first part. One thing which remains constant is that Danny, Joe, and Irene always take responsibility for their actions.
Danny Dunn and the Weather Machine was published in 1959, and holds up pretty well, even in this age of satellites and computers. It might be educational for kids today to know that in the "olden days" weather forecasting was done by taking the information on temperature, humidity, rainfall, and barometric pressure, recorded at weather stations all around the country, both professional ones run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and by thousands of people with equipment at their homes. Combined with information collected at various altitudes, taken by instruments parachuted to the ground by balloons, meteorologists figured out where the pressure systems were and what direction they were moving. And from this, weather predictions were made. And strangely enough, the same still goes on today. Even with all the satellites, ground stations, just like the ones in the 50s and 60s still form a critical part of NOAA's weather forecasting. Just because technology improves, tried and true methods of science are never abandoned as long as they remain useful.
Even for a book of only ~150 pages, there are still several other subplots to discover. Aimed at the teenage audience, these books are intended as a quick and enjoyable read, with plot lines based on the premise that good manners, respect for authorities and adults (more or less), good grades, and science are the keys to a golden future. It's a premise that, while perhaps a little naive, is one I'm willing to suspend disbelief for. I'm looking forward to reconnecting with the remaining eleven volumes, which I last read over forty years ago.