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Inspire middle-school readers with these true tales of intellectual inquiry, scientific advancement, and STEM trailblazers.

carson_inside biosphere 2In her latest Scientists in the Field series entry Inside Biosphere 2: Earth Science Under Glass, Mary Kay Carson takes readers into the research facility designed to be a self-sustaining model of Earth’s environments. The ability to control environmental conditions within the contained rainforest, ocean, and giant soil laboratory allows researchers to investigate questions in earth science — prominently, those related to climate change — on a scale not possible in any other laboratory setting. Tom Uhlman’s plentiful photos of the scientists, facility, and surrounding environment capture the feel of a busy research center. (Houghton, 12–14 years)

castaldo_story of seedsThe Story of Seeds: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less to Eat Around the World, Nancy F. Castaldo’s eye-opening book on the science and politics of agriculture, serves as a wake-up call about the fragility of our plant-based food supply. Castaldo clearly lays out a case for the importance of plant diversity, presenting engaging information about agricultural science, genetics, and biodiversity along with variously alarming and inspiring accounts of global politics, industrialism, and grassroots activism. Numerous photographs of the plants themselves and the people involved in plant and seed preservation are included, as well as profiles of notable scientists and activists. (Houghton, 12–14 years)

brimner_rain wizardScientist or huckster? During the early twentieth century, Charles Mallory Hatfield claimed that he could coax rain from the sky. His services were offered to drought-plagued cities at the price of up to $1000 per inch of rain, and his success rate was remarkable. Larry Dane Brimner’s well-paced account The Rain Wizard: The Amazing, Mysterious, True Life of Charles Mallory Hatfield serves as both a biography of Hatfield and an introduction to pluviculture and the people — mostly shysters — who practiced it. Hatfield, though, considered himself a real scientist, and readers are tantalizingly left to contemplate whether he was mostly effective or mostly lucky. (Highlights/Calkins Creek, 12–14 years)

hartland_steve jobs insanely greatJessie Hartland’s graphic novel Steve Jobs: Insanely Great provides readers with a plethora of information, both personal and professional, about a complex, driven, sometimes difficult individual. Beginning with Jobs’s birth in 1955 and ending with his death in 2011, Hartland retells well-known events in the Apple co-founder’s career: the creation of the Apple 1 (with Steve Wozniak) and Apple II; expulsion from Apple; influential tenure at Pixar; and triumphant return to the company that he built. Figurative illustrations and concise text deliver a depiction of Steve Jobs that is well-balanced and accessible for tech and comic book–biography enthusiasts alike. (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 13–16 years)

From the May 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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