The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (2015)

An Intermediate and Middle School selection.

Available in Spanish.

Picture Book Companion available.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a nonfiction title that informs, amazes, and inspires all readers, young and not so young.

To call it another inspiring must-read doesn’t do it justice. Yes, it has all of the components of a heartfelt hometown hero story.

An unlikely hero? Check.

An against-all-odds situation? Check.

Tragedy and hardship? Check.

A youth full of determination and dreams of helping others? Check.

William Kamkwamba’s story transcends the typical survivalist story with his unvarnished retelling of how his desire to help his family truly changed the world.

Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer tell the unprecedented story of William, a young boy growing up in Malawi during the famine of 2002. William, unable to attend school because his family cannot afford his school fees, turns to his natural inquisitiveness and ingenuity, along with the local library. He sees a picture of a windmill in an old science textbook. Convinced this contraption can solve his family’s problems, he dives into learning the science behind energy production and proceeds to make his dream a reality. With only a few donated library books, some scraps from the junkyard, and an abundance of curiosity, William launches a plan to build a machine and a miracle that would change the lives of those around him.

Despite ridicule from his neighbors, a lack of resources, an incomplete formal education, and miserable life conditions, William dreams of learning. His dream propels him to literally harness the wind and bring electricity first to his home, then his village, and finally to far-flung parts of the African continent. William’s journey from famine to an international TED convention is an inspiration to us all.

Though William’s situation seems thousands of miles away, his storytelling pulls the reader right into his village to share his family’s plight and to recognize the threads of truth that connect all humans. He manages to take an unfamiliar setting and make us feel at home. Although it relays some harsh truths, this account is ultimately grounded in hope. This young adult version is factual and informative while providing a compelling book for families to read and discuss together.

William’s lesson of, “I try, and I made it!” is one for all young people today. The future of the world literally rests in their capable, imaginative hands. William is living proof that extraordinary circumstances can drive extraordinary people to extraordinary things.

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