Monday, May 4, 2015

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition
William Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer
Dial, 2015  294 pgs
Grades 5-Up

A younger reader's edition appropriate for middle and senior grades based on an adult bestseller of the same title.  William Kamkwamba lives in Malawi, Africa with his farming family in a hut in poverty.   A severe famine grips the nation and many people die.  William's family comes close to death, hanging on by a thread.  Although the next year's crops are better and they now can eat, there is no extra money to send William to secondary school.  William has a thirst for knowledge, especially science.  He spends his free time in the small local library, voraciously reading every book on science he can get his hands on.  Through these precious books William teaches himself about electricity, something that is in short and irregular supply in Malawi.  After scavenging through the garbage he acquires the materials to construct a small windmill, and then a bigger one, bringing electricity to his family.  Eventually, people take notice of the windmill and William is brought to first local attention and then national, and finally international.  William is able to return to school and help his family in ways he never thought possible.  What's next for William?  Find out in the epilogue.

Offered in several different forms, William Kamkwamba's story is extremely inspirational and now accessible to many age levels.  I have used the picture book version (also of the same title) for both environmental and science programs about electricity.  Its an incredible journey that William takes and his incongruity and perseverance would be extremely motivating to children and adults of all ages.  The young reader's version sticks close to the adult version.  Because of the graphic nature of people dying during the famine (the family dog is left to die in the woods because of lack of food) I would not recommend it to young elementary children.  Brian Mealer is a former journalist stationed in Africa and is the perfect author to pen William's tale.  He writes clearly and succinctly, capturing Williams voice and rural African life.  American children will benefit greatly from reading this story and will, hopefully, walk away from it appreciating both the food on their table and the schooling that they take for granted.  This book will be a great pick for both boys and girls who prefer non-fiction, especially those who are interested in science.  It will also work well for biography book reports.  Less dry than most non-fiction offerings, the book felt like fiction, until you realize that William's story is for real.  My only questions is: When is the movie coming out?

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