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Inspiring story of hope for kids: William Kamkwamba's courageous journey
on January 19, 2012
I confess to being a big fan of the adult version of "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind." It is one of the most moving stories I've ever read. But how can you translate 30,000 words into a children's picture book?
William Kamkwamba (24) and co-author Bryan Mealer have simmered the adult memoir into a fine-cuisine reduction of just 1000 perfectly-chosen words, illuminated by the oil-and-cut-paper illustrations of the very talented illustrator Elizabeth Zunon, who grew up in the Ivory Coast. Her use of color, composition and form informs while it entertains. While the story is linear, kids will enjoy re-viewing the multi-hued spreads to spot the tremendous detail evident on every page.
Born and raised in Wimbe, Malawi, William Kamkwamba was just 14 when he was forced to drop out of high school for lack of school fees, because his family needed every kwacha (Malawian money) for food to survive a deadly famine. Against this life-and-death backdrop, William, determined to created a future for himself, went to a recently-built community lending library. There he saw a picture of a windmill on the cover of a 8th grade U.S. science textbook called Using Energy. The book said you can use a windmill to pump water or generate electricity. That would help his family overcome hunger through crop irrigation and save money on kerosene for light. The kerosene funds could then be spent on more food.
On the spot he decided to build a windmill, but he had no money or idea how to do so. While trying to solve this puzzle with the help of his loyal cousin and his best friend, he was mocked by members of his community who believed the boy was going mad, though William enjoyed the full support of his parents and six sisters. His quest to realize his windmill forms the core of "The Boy Who..." kid's edition.
Particular notice should be paid to the work of 27-year old illustrator Elizabeth Zunon, whose sublime technique captures every face and object, and the layering effects in the collage elements render the book virtually 3D, without any need for glasses. Some of her illustrations are representational yet stylized, and some are pure visual poetry, such how she depicts the wind emanating from the windmill's blades. She is clearly a rising star in children's book illustrations and seems to be charting a course in the vein of the renowned illustrated book artist Kadir Nelson.
Parents, your children six and up will love this book (younger, if you are doing the reading out loud). Teacher and librarians, this is sure to be popular with your students. More than just a story about building a windmill, this is about a family banding together to overcome extreme adversity. It's about a boy's journey from believing superstitions to becoming a young man of science. It's an uplifting story about Africa with a happy ending. But most of all, this is a story of a young man who came to embody courage, determination, hope and energy. And it's a true story! (William is now a environmental studies/engineering student at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.)
If you have young people in your life, (or even if you don't) I strongly recommend that you share this powerful and moving story with all of them, their schools and their libraries.