Thursday, April 2, 2015

Book Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Young Reader's Edition)

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Anna Hymas

I still haven't read The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, but I saw this in the library catalog when I was searching for The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Picture Book Edition. Because First Son is still reading about Africa, I decided to read it quickly to see if it would be appropriate for him.

This book tells the remarkable story of a young boy of Malawi, William Kamkwamba, forced by poverty and famine to leave school. He teaches himself physics and electrical engineering from an old book so he can build a windmill and provide his family with electricity. He continues to learn, improving his windmill (and making a few mistakes, too), until he draws the attention of some influential people in Malawi and other countries in Africa. They set in motion a series of events that enable William to go back to school and eventually graduate from a college in the United States. He immediately began giving back to his local community and his country in ways just as inspiring as his quest for an education.

There are so many reasons floating around in my head to give this book to a young reader, I almost can't organize them enough to share them.

William's grades are so low early in the book despite his earnest studying, he does not qualify for the better funded magnet school. It's clear he was intelligent, but for some reason the tests didn't reveal his potential. Later, when he returns to school as an older student, he candidly shares his struggles to catch up with his peers. What a wonderful example for a young student who struggles to perform academically!

One of the professors who first visits William speaks eloquently of his disappointment at how William's situation is not unusual in Malawi. Many talented and curious students are forced to leave school due to poverty. The book reveals this truth naturally and may therefore prompt a more heartfelt response in a reader.

William's friends are instrumental in completing the windmill. Many others reach out to help him in the years that follow. His story reminds us that we should do what we can (building a windmill, in William's case), but that it is right that we should accept the generous and appropriate help of others. In the same way, we should be seeking opportunities to help others as well.

The detailed information on physics and electricity would make this a wonderful supplement to a science study. It may even work as a read-aloud, if there are not too many sensitive children. (There are honest depictions of Malawi's people suffering in drought and famine that some young children may find disturbing.)

We're at the end of our school year now, hoping to finish everything in the next few weeks. I think I'll put this book in the summer reading pile for First Son. In future years, I would be tempted to replace our third African book (A Gift from Childhood) with The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

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