review: The boy who harnessed the wind

"This exquisite tale strips life down to its barest essentials, and once there finds reason for hopes and dreams" Publishers Weekly

book review: The boy who harnessed the wind

authors: William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

date: 2009; Harper Perennial

non-fiction

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 The boy who harnessed the wind is the story of William Kamkwamba’s imaginative growing up in Malawi. In the beginning of the book, we learn a little about Malawi: its customs, beliefs and practices. While life if very different for people in Malawi, we don’t get the sense that our lives are so totally different, as if we’re on two different planets. Kamkwamba relates the oppressiveness of the Malawian government and how its actions affect the people, particularly the farmers. When country is devastated by a drought, the government does little to help its people and they have to do whatever they can to have something to eat.

At the same time, William is trying to get an education. Because there are no crops, his family has no money for school.  William seems to already know that school isn’t the only place of learning and that our education shouldn’t rely only upon institutions, well, except for the library. His inquisitiveness eventually leads him to develop a small windmill for his family, a source of light in their home after the sun has set. This simple invention leads to a life that even he could not otherwise have imagined.

The boy who harnessed the wind is really told quite simply. There is nothing that is hard to believe and nothing extraordinary yet it is quite an inspiration.

The book reminded quite a bit of Africans thought of it, part of the We thought if it series from Annick Press. While Africans thought of it presents numerous traditional inventions from throughout the African continent for younger readers, The boy who harnessed the wind shows readers a young boy who is as creative and as resourceful as any boy from any continent. Kamkwamba doesn’t downplay societal differences, rather he gives us an ordinary African life that seems quite ordinary to American readers.

Kamkwamba is a recipient of the GO Ingenuity Award, a prize awarded by the Santa Monica based nonprofit GO Campaign to inventors, artists, and makers to promote the sharing of their innovations and skills with marginalized youth in developing nations. With the grant, Kamkwamba will hold workshops for youth in his home village, teaching them how to make windmills and repair water pumps, both of which proved to be transformative skills for this young African leader.

He is currently studying at Dartmouth College, class of 2014. Bryan Mealer met William shortly after finishing a rather hard-hitting book about the Congo. Ready for an uplifting story, he pursued William’s story after reading about him in the Wall Street Journal. The two men met and the rest, as they say, is history.

The boy who harnessed the wind was a NY Times bestseller. While the book was released for Adult readers, it is a book that young adults can and should read to learn about the world around them. The book would easily fit into Science, Geography or World Lit classes.  In January 2012, Dial released The boy who harnessed the wind: young readers edition.

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