Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Is stunning, in my opinion. The writing is lyrical and the illustrations capture my interest. But let's begin at the beginning, shall we. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, written by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, is the story of author William Kamkwamba and his family and community struggles with drought and famine in Malawi. As a result, Kwamkamba finds himself unable to attend school but instead turning to the library for answers to some burning questions like how an engine of a car works. A natural engineer, he happens upon information and pictures of windmills and sets out to harness the wind himself. The remarkable illustrated tale is followed by further information about William Kamkwambe's journey, including a TED talk in Tanzania. Included in information about the author is a link to more information about The Moving Windmills Project, something I plan to learn more about.

Full disclosure: I have traveled to Tanzania, Africa and I am a sucker for stories such as this. While I was there, we met with groups establishing schools and seeking sustainable sources of funding. We naive Americans kept suggesting grants to apply for, but the Africans knew (from experience) that grants don't last forever. This story of a young boy (William was just 14 when he successfully built a windmill that created electricity) researching and acting to create a sustainable source of energy for his family and community is something I won't soon tire of hearing about.

Reference to native words are inter-woven with the English text. My favorite new word for crazy is "misala".  I think I will use it often...probably to describe myself.

Some writing that will stay with me:
"A crowd gathered below and gazed at this strange machine that now leaned and wobbled like a clumsy giraffe."

And now, the illustrations. Oh, the illustrations. Just as I'm a sucker for a story of Africa, I am also a sucker for mixed media and collage elements. Elizabeth Zunon's art was created using oil paint and cut paper. I enjoy the textures of cut paper atop oil. In each instance of the windmill, I feel as if I can touch the blades and feel their texture. The scaffold of the windmill is layered as it would be and the birds that occasionally dot the sky are beautifully patterned. On the very first page, William is walking to hoe the fields on a crest above the village but while reflecting on the story, I see him as larger than life, having BIG ideas for the future of this small village. As the blazing sun and lack of rainwater patch the ground, the look below ground at the plants trying to reach the surface is telling and the texture of the ground looks as if it would crumble. The droplets of water in William's imagination look so cool and refreshing by contrast. Once the windmill is up, the gusts of wind reflected on the front and back cover as well make me think of the patterns of sarongs that women may wear. The way the breezes wrap around everything is instantly cooling and the final illustration makes me smile, contented.

I hope that you, like I, can find solace in reading and enjoying The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Perhaps it will inspire you to harness some wind yourself.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition
ISBN: 978-0-8037-3511-8
Published 2012 by Dial
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review it.
I plan to add this book to our school library collection.

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