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Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The boy who harnessed the wind, William Kamkwamba

Inventor William Kamkwamba and journalist Bryan Mealer collaborate with illustrator Elizabeth Zunon to masterfully share with the young reader the story of William’s life in drought-ravaged Malawi and the ingenuity that inspired him to build a windmill—the windmill that came to illuminate his life and the lives of those around him.


William was forced to drop out of school after a severe drought and famine struck Malawi.  Instead of abandoning his education entirely, William started visiting the local library in an effort to continue learning.  Through books, he taught himself not just English but also to build a windmill.


To construct his windmill, William collected spare bicycle parts, a tractor fan, plastic pipes and other useful items that others had discarded as trash.  Although the people in his village thought that he was crazy, he persisted and ultimately succeeded in building a windmill that provided enough electricity to power several light bulbs and two radios as well as deliver water to his family.


Kamkwamba and Mealer tell the story in a compelling manner that captures and maintains the young reader’s attention.  Issues such as poverty, famine and starvation contrast concepts such as imagination, self-empowerment and education in way that a child can understand and appreciate without feeling overwhelmed.  Zunon’s intensely beautiful illustrations comprised of oil-painted backgrounds with carefully cut pieces of fabric, paper and old photographs create vibrant and textured collages. They compliment the text and subtly mirror William’s story by assembling old pieces of various materials, which at times seem to have a story of their own to tell, to craft something new.


Although the story in the book culminates with the construction of the windmill, William’s story does not end with that amazing accomplishment. The final pages provide an update of William’s life after building the windmill and illuminate the outcome of William’s hard work and determination, inspiring the young reader.


I enjoyed reading The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind with my children and more importantly, they benefited from hearing William’s story.  The book provided us with an opportunity to discuss vital issues like hunger, access to education and the transformative power of science and the imagination.  As a parent, I remain appreciative of this heart-warming and thought-provoking book that inspired my children to ask, “Could we build a windmill?”

© 2012 – 2013, Adanne. All rights reserved.

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Adanne (an African name meaning “her mother’s daughter”) is the Founder of Black Kids Read, an NGO that strives to promote and improve literacy rates in the African-American/Caribbean and African-immigrant communities through parent training, school-community partnerships, resource materials development, peer education and reviews of culturally-validating books that will inspire our children become excited about reading. Adanne is a licensed Attorney and speech-language Pathologist. She has studied law in Nairobi, Kenya and Spanish in Mexico. She has traveled to Tanzania, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Ivory Coast, Senegal, the Gambia, France, the UK, Spain and several dozen cities throughout the United States. Adanne speaks English, Spanish and Franglais (which her eldest loves to correct). She is married to a Dominican (from the Commonwealth not the Republic) and they are rearing two delightful and curious children bilingual in French/English and bicultural African-American/Dominican in Southern California.

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  1. CommentsThe Boy Who Harnessed the Wind | Book Discussion Guides   |  Monday, 19 May 2014 at 7:45 am

    […] . Kirkus Reviews. InCulture Parent. Blogs: . Brain Pickings. Children’s Books […]

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