Monday, January 25, 2010

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


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 The YA YA YAs.


Charlotte said...

This has just arrived from the library--i'm looking forward to it!

Jodie said...

It does sound like an amazing story and nice to get a bit of background on his lfie before the windmill project.

Trisha said...

Charlotte - I hope you enjoy it.

Jodie - Yes, the background context added so much to the story.

Anonymous said...

I saw him on The Colbert Report, and he seemed really amazing - I have to remember to look for it!