Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

boy who harnessed the wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

This picture book version of the nonfiction book manages to translate the story of William Kamkwamba with clarity and inspiration.  When a drought hit his village in Malawi in 2001 and 2002, 14-year-old William and his family were in real danger of starving.  William had always through about machines and even after he was forced to leave school due to the drought, he kept reading books about them.  He thought about what could be done with a windmill in his village, bringing light and water.  So he hunted through the junk yard and found pieces to use.  Built entirely out of scraps, his first windmill and its electric wind brought electricity to the valley.   The afterword gives more details about William’s story and how it took him longer years to bring his dream of pumping water to fruition. This inspirational story speaks to the inventor, the doer, and the dreamer in all of us.

The writing here is lovely.  The imagery is impressive, such as comparing the windmill to a “clumsy giraffe” and giving William’s sorrow at having to leave school a physical sense: “alone with the monster in his belly and the lump in his throat.”  The book carefully captures what life in Malawi was like and what little could be done to make a difference before transforming into a book where dreams create change.  

Zunon’s illustrations are exquisite.  They are a captivating mix of painting and collage.  Filled with texture, the textiles of the clothing come to life and the objects have weight and feel.  The most impressive are the faces of the people, filled with light.  The faces become the place your eyes go first, making the message of the book just that much stronger in a subtle but powerful way.

A luminous picture book version of a compelling real-life story, this book should inspire others to not only dream but to make those dreams happen.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books for Young Readers.