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Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

For a truly inspirational book, check out The Boy Who Harnessed the Windby inventor William Kamkwamba and journalist Bryan Mealer with pictures by Elizabeth Zunon. Forced to drop out of school when famine struck Malawi, fourteen-year-old William turned to the local library where the pictures of windmills inspired him to build his own. Hoping to provide a steady source of water for his family’s farm, he gathered materials wherever he could find them. Using a bicycle wheel, plastic pipe and other odds and ends that children will recognize, William succeeded in building a working windmill and providing energy for four lightbulbs and two radios. The determination and ingenuity required for his success are astounding yet make it clear that we are all capable of so much more than we might have imagined.

For adults, I highly recommend the full-length adult biography by the same name, but this picture book adaptation is a wonderful way to introduce children to this amazing story.  As with any adaptation, space constraints made omissions were necessary. References to his grandfather’s stories are minimal and I wish they had included the use of the windmill to charge neighbours’ cell phones. It demonstrates his entrepreneurial as well as scientific spirit and I think it would give American children an additional point they could relate to. Nevertheless, there is no shortage of connections in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Use it to discuss hunger, famine, libraries, education, Africa, foreign language learning and, of course, inspire science projects.  It would take a heart of stone to not be inspired by William’s accomplishments.

Watch William Kamkwamba’s interview on The Daily Show or TED talk.

To see what others have been reading this week for the Nonfiction Picture Book Reading Challenge, check out the round up at Kid Lit Frenzy.