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The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

January 25, 2010

cover of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan MealerGo.

Just go and read this book now. It’s amazing, awesome, inspiring, and I can go on with the adjectives if you want me to, but I’ll stop for now.

Then give it to socially conscious teens. Give it to teens who like to build things or take them apart. Give it to any teen you can. And give it to adults too, because we can be cynical and pessimistic and weary.

For those of you who need to know more about the book first, it’s about a young man in Africa who

  1. survives a famine;
  2. is forced to drop out of school because his family can’t afford the fees;
  3. finds some science textbooks in a library;
  4. decides to build a windmill to provide electricity for his family, with a dream of a putting together a water pump for their well, to irrigate their garden and maize crop;
  5. succeeds, using, among other things, bicycle parts and a drill made from a nail and a maize cob; and
  6. receives worldwide attention as word about his windmills spreads.

This is the kind of story that, in a novel, would seem implausible. Too good to be true. Except William Kamkwamba actually did all of this.

Part of what makes The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity & Hope so good (other than the basics outlined above, which would be incredible enough on its own) is that, other than the two page long prologue, more than half the book goes by before we get to the windmills. So don’t expect to be thrust into the windmill quest right away. Instead, William, with co-writer Bryan Mealer, utilizes a conversational, personable style to tell us about his life, with the windmills treated as just one part of it. William says that his father is “a born storyteller, largely because his own life had been like one fantastic tale” (p. 23). He must have inherited his father’s talent (well, this and Mealer did a really good job), because the book hums with the rhythms of oral storytelling and reads as if William were sitting with you, telling you about himself.

And so we learn about his family, his childhood, and the horrific famine that struck Malawi in 2000. How, despite having to drop out of school, William began borrowing books from the library to try to keep up with with what his former classmates were learning and then found the book that would change his life. But as in any quest worth reading about, there were challenges to overcome, and knowing that William ultimately succeeded does not make reading about them any less satisfying.

Book source: public library.

Cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2010 10:27 am

    This sounds great, thanks for the write-up.

  2. January 25, 2010 12:04 pm

    What a great review – I’m sold. This book was already on my TBR list, but you convinced me I need to go ahead and request it from the library right now. 🙂 Thanks!

  3. January 25, 2010 4:07 pm

    I’ve just requested it from the library! Thanks.

  4. January 26, 2010 5:44 am

    I’m glad that it is a positive life story too, even though he’s suffered hardships and devastation. Too often the memoirs we get from Africa are war memoirs. And while those are worthy and necessary, I hate that many people think of Africa and only see war and genocide. I’m going to have to read this book, thanks for the review!

  5. January 26, 2010 7:18 am

    This is awesome. I’m going to show it to my teen group. I’ve linked it from my teen library page, too. It really shows the power of a library book and the resourcefulness of the human spirit!

  6. January 26, 2010 8:14 pm

    My son told me about this story – but I didn’t realize there was a book. Fabulous – can’t wait to read it. Really like the format of your review.

  7. Danny permalink
    January 27, 2010 12:59 pm

    Thanks for the write-up…this sounds like a great book!

  8. January 28, 2010 4:35 pm

    I agree this book is awesome and needs to be read. I don’t have time now but I’ll be adding a link to this review from mine. It’s a book that I think deserves an award!

  9. January 28, 2010 7:05 pm

    This is one heck of a review. It really makes me want to get the book. I hadn’t heard of it, so thank you!

  10. January 29, 2010 12:02 am

    I’d never heard of this, either. Thank you for the suggestion. Now I just need to find some more time.

  11. February 2, 2010 9:13 am

    This young man did a fabulous interview on either Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, I can’t remember–but it would definitely be worth looking up. The windmill has a special resonance for people like me who specialize in Great Plains literature.

  12. February 3, 2010 5:27 pm

    You have really encouraged me to tread this one. I hope it ends up being appealing for my middle schoolers, because I need some high-interest nonfiction!

    I nominated you for the Fabulous Sugar Doll Blogger Award. You can see the details on my blog, Don’t worry, participation is optional.

  13. February 5, 2010 12:57 am

    I put it on reserve at the library! Sounds like something entitled children in the US would benefit from reading!

  14. February 5, 2010 12:59 am

    Also, it was one of our 10 Alex Award winners this year – best adult books for young adults 😉

  15. February 9, 2010 4:46 am

    I just finished it yesterday–an amazing story, and a great book.

  16. Frankie Books permalink
    February 25, 2010 1:13 pm

    I have finally finished reading this book too, an excellent read.


  1. On my Reading List: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind « Energy Resources for North Carolina Teachers
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