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?”