The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition


The New York Times bestselling memoir of the heroic young inventor who brought electricity to his Malawian village is now perfect for young readers

When a terrible drought struck William Kamkwamba's tiny village in Malawi, his family lost all of the season's crops, leaving them with nothing to eat and nothing to sell. William began to explore science books in his village library, looking for a solution. There, he came up with the idea that would change his family's ...

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The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition

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The New York Times bestselling memoir of the heroic young inventor who brought electricity to his Malawian village is now perfect for young readers

When a terrible drought struck William Kamkwamba's tiny village in Malawi, his family lost all of the season's crops, leaving them with nothing to eat and nothing to sell. William began to explore science books in his village library, looking for a solution. There, he came up with the idea that would change his family's life forever: he could build a windmill. Made out of scrap metal and old bicycle parts, William's windmill brought electricity to his home and helped his family pump the water they needed to farm the land.

Retold for a younger audience, this exciting memoir shows how, even in a desperate situation, one boy's brilliant idea can light up the world. Complete with photographs, illustrations, and an epilogue that will bring readers up to date on William's story, this is the perfect edition to read and share with the whole family.

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
★ 11/01/2014
Gr 4–7—This youth edition of the original adult book of the same title has been skillfully adapted for middle grade readers. Kamkwamba recounts a period from his childhood living in a small Malawi village. His family was poor, but they got by working as farmers. Kamkwamba was in elementary school, about to graduate to secondary school, when the drought and famine of the mid-2000s upset the patterns of local life. The author deftly describes the devastating effects upon his family: they ate insects, and rations were reduced to only a single mouthful daily. Many around them suffered even worse. Somehow, the family struggled through until the rains returned to nourish a new crop, but they couldn't afford Kamkwamba's school fees. He farmed with his father but also discovered a local library, where he taught himself to engineer a windmill to draw water to irrigate the fields. Those around him thought he was crazy as he salvaged motor parts, a PVC pipe, his father's broken bicycle, and anything else he could find. Kamkwamba did successfully harness the wind, managing to light his family's house, charge community cell phones for a small income, and pump irrigation water. A school inspection team saw the windmill and brought educators to see the teen engineer, who was invited to speak at the African TED conference and given a scholarship. This is a fascinating, well-told account that will intrigue curious minds, even the somewhat anticlimactic closing chapters describing Kamkwamba's education. There is also a picture book version of this tale (Dial, 2012), making it of interest to all-school reading programs. An inspiring, incredible story.—Dorcas Hand, Annunciation Orthodox School, Houston, TX
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-11-04
The author and his collaborator have condensed the original memoir of the same name, a story of an innovative and compassionate boy coming of age during an era of extreme hardship in Malawi.This newest incarnation of Kamkwamba's tale is as absorbing as its predecessor and still delivers with equanimity facts both disturbing and inspiring. Kamkwamba describes his early life in Masitala, a tiny rural village where, typically, large families of subsistence farmers lived in huts without electricity or running water. Until December 2000, Kamkwamba's life reads like an African parallel to the idyllic, early-20th-century scenes in Sterling North's Rascal: soccer with balls made from plastic bags; juicy mangoes and crunchy grasshoppers; storytelling by the light of a kerosene lamp; experiments with old radio parts; loyal friends and faithful pet. A perfect storm of deforestation, governmental changes, flooding and drought creates a sudden famine. The text does not spare readers the effects of starvation and grinding poverty on humans and animals. However, there are also many descriptions of how and why power-generating inventions work, and the passages about creating tools from almost nothing are reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. Against astounding odds, Kamkwamba's eventual creation of a windmill to bring lighting to his family's home is nothing short of amazing. Compelling and informative for a broad readership and a good addition to STEM collections. (map, prologue, photographs, epilogue, acknowledgments) (Memoir. 11-16)
Publishers Weekly
Zunon’s (My Hands Sing the Blues) oil paint and cut-paper collages amplify the entwined themes of science and magic in this adaptation of the authors’ 2009 adult book. Kamkwamba was born in Malawi in 1987, and when he was 14, drought was ravaging his country. Forced to leave school to save money, Kamkwamba studied science books at the library, learning about windmills—and their potential. “He closed his eyes and saw a windmill outside his home, pulling electricity from the breeze and bringing light to the dark valley.” Gathering materials from the junkyard, he assembles a windmill that creates “electric wind” and even lights a light bulb. Tradition and “tales of magic” combine with the promise of technology in this inspiring story of curiosity and ingenuity. Zunon’s artwork combines naturalistic and more whimsical elements; the African sun beats down on Zunon’s villagers, ribbony “ghost dancers” encircle Kamkwamba’s bed while he sleeps, and blue cut-paper swirls sweep toward the windmill. While the narrative simplifies Kamkwamba’s creative process, an afterword provides additional detail for readers who share his mechanical inclinations. Ages 6–8. Agent: ICM. Illustrator’s agent: Painted Words. (Jan.)
Wall Street Journal
"This book will appeal to adults eager to impart an uplifting Third World human-interest story, but it is also sure to resonate with children who will simply love the curiosity, resilience and resourcefulness of this doughty African youth."
The Boston Globe
"A powerful, gorgeously illustrated children's picture book."
"This picture book in accessible free verse will draw kids who love to construct their own engineering gadgets."
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
In his village in Malawi, young William is a dreamer. When drought brings hunger and no money for school, William goes to the library, where he learns that windmills can produce electricity and pump water. Determined to build one, he collects discarded pieces of junk here and there, while people call him crazy. Amazingly, the machine he puts together produces enough electricity to light a bulb. With other, more sophisticated windmills, the people find they can pump enough water to irrigate their dry fields and stave off hunger. Cut paper and oil paints depict the Malawi landscape and population. The cut papers in particular define the clothes, the growing maize, and the machine parts. The curves of the papers used to represent the winds from the large fan blades are particularly attractive. Large pages and imaginative page design effectively visualize this simple, uplifting tale. A note adds factual background information. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3—Based on the best seller of the same title, this picture-book biography chronicles Kamkwamba's teen years in a Malawian village. As he tills the soil, his mind teems with a mix of mechanical questions and the magical stories relayed by his elders. When a drought destroys the crops, his education fund dries up as well. Kamkwamba seeks refuge in the American-built library, where, dictionary in hand, he decodes the function of a windmill that has captured his interest. Despite the murmurings of incredulous villagers, the young man assembles junkyard scraps to build "electric wind." The third-person descriptions and dialogue are flavored with African phrases. Zunon's compositions, rendered in cut paper and oils, create a variety of moods. Colorfully garbed ghost dancers populate the boy's dreams, while crumpled tan rice paper, arranged to depict a high horizon line just beneath a blazing sun, forms a parched landscape, overwhelming in scale. Swirls of patterned blue and green paper portray the wind that propels the blades of his creation. While an extensive author's note explains that it took several years to achieve the ability to irrigate, the lack of clear visuals to show how wind becomes electricity (and ultimately pumps water) may frustrate young children. That caveat aside, this is a dynamic portrait of a young person whose connection to the land, concern for his community, and drive to solve problems offer an inspiring model. It would pair well with one of the recent titles about Wangari Maathai.—Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
The true story of a Malawian teenager who leveraged need and library research into a windmill constructed from found materials. Forced by drought and famine to drop out of school, William dreams of "building things and taking them apart." Inspired by science books in an American-built library near his village, his dreams turn to creating "electric wind." Despite the doubts of others he begins--assembling discarded bicycle parts and other junk into a rickety tower, triumphantly powering an electric light and going on to dream of windmill-driven wells to water the land. Kamkwamba tells this version (another, for adult readers, was published with the same title in 2009) of his tale of inspiration meeting perspiration in terse, stately third person: "He closed his eyes and saw a windmill outside his home, pulling electricity from the breeze and bringing light to the dark valley." Zunon illustrates it handsomely, with contrasting cut-paper-collage details arranged on brown figures, and broad, sere landscapes painted in visibly textured oils. A plainspoken but inspiring tale of homespun ingenuity. (afterword) (Picture book/biography. 7-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803740808
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication date: 2/5/2015
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 190,761
  • Age range: 10 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 860L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

William Kamkwamba

William Kamkwamba recently graduated from Dartmouth College. The original version of his memoir The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind was a New York Times Bestseller and a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. He divides his time between Malawi and San Francisco, California.

Bryan Mealer is the author of Muck City: Winning and Losing in Football's Forgotten Town and All Things Must Fight to Live, which chronicled his years covering the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a reporter for the Associated Press and Harper's. His work has appeared in the anthology Best American Travel Writing and was chosen for an Overseas Press Club Award Citation. He lives in Austin, Texas.

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