The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Picture Book Edition
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
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.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2012
i knew about the story of William through his TED Talk in TED Global in Africa and i thought that it would not be possible to reflect his spontaneous character and curiosity behind his achievements in another format, and in any case a book.
I must admit this book does. It is beautifully illustrated, the colors and the illustration style seem inspired by African artisan paintings which i think it is wonderful. Also the text and the images are perfectly matched, both graphically and meaningfully.
This book blows your mind for few seconds and i believe William is a new standards of 21st century children's super heros.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2012
An amazing story to share and spread with the next generation of thinkers and dreamers! The book is enchantingly beautiful and utterly inspiring! Every child should b exposed to its pivotal message!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2015
There may be much to admire in this story. However, there's also a lot of darkness. While I'm not opposed to some darkness in a book for children, the dark parts were too graphically described in this book for sensitive children. Kamkwamba gives a vivid description of starving, complete with details for specific people. He tells about how friends urged him to kill his dog instead of allowing the dog to starve to death. In the end, to keep his friends from killing his dog for him, he took his dog into the woods and left him tied to a tree so that the dog would finish dying in that place.

It's the amount of detail in these scenes which became quite disturbing. These aren't brief bits which allow a child to glimpse the horror while keeping a bit of emotional distance. Instead, the book includes page after page of descriptive passages about the people who were literally starving to death, the agonizing decision about his dog, and what he found when he returned to the spot where he'd left the dog.

The School Library Journal review suggests this book for grades 4-7, but I consider this book highly inappropriate for children at the younger end of that range. Even some children at the upper end of that age range will find the book disturbing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2012
The children's version of this story is beautiful and well-written, with some of the most stunning illustrations you've ever seen. It's is one of those rare children's books that is also delightful for adults to read over and over again. The story sends about a million great messages (without being at all in-your-face about it), including an important one about perseverance. My daughter absolutely loves it, and was inspired just recently to make her own version of a windmill out of wood and duct tape. We haven't quite got it generating power yet!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2012
I have watched the TED talks by William, the boy in this children's book. The story, the messages, the artwork are unique and inspirational for children everywhere to find how to connect their imagination with the real world. To follow their intuition and passions, and trust their wisdom. Actually a great read for all because every parent and adult needs to remember that their dreams to provide and create a healthy world for their loved ones are possible to reach. And if ideas seem crazy, just might be ingenious solutions.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2012
Even if this book had been fiction, it would have been an inspiring and beautiful story. Knowing that it is actually true, and that William and his windmill are out there, somewhere in the world, makes it an absolutely thrilling and touching story; a great reminder for the young and not so young of how courage and imagination are paramount in life, capable of changing our life and the lives of people around us.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2012
This story is beautifully illustrated and inspiring on so many levels. It's also full of the kinds of messages I want all of the children in my life to hear: that creative ideas can change the world, and that when you're trying something new, it's okay if everyone thinks you're crazy. While this book is written for "young readers" I think adults will find a lot of inspiration in it as well.
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on February 18, 2012
Themes/Discussion Topics: Self-empowerment, Ingenuity, Africa, English-Language Learning, Hunger, Famine, Education, Role of Libraries, Recycling

Inventor William Kamkwamba and journalist Bryan Mealer collaborate with illustrator Elizabeth Zunon to masterfully share with the young reader the story of William's life in drought-ravaged Malawi and his ingenuity that inspired him to build a windmill that would illuminate his life and the lives of those around him.
William was forced to drop out of school after a severe drought and famine struck Malawi. Instead of abandoning his education entirely, William started going to the local library in an effort to continue his education. He used the library books to teach himself how to build a windmill and dictionaries to learn English one word at a time.

In order to build his windmill, William collected spare bicycle parts, a tractor fan, plastic pipes and other useful items that others had discarded as trash. Although the people in his village thought that he was crazy, he persisted and ultimately succeeded in building a windmill that provided enough electricity to power several light bulbs and two radios as well as provide water for his family.

Kamkwamba and Mealer tell the story in a compelling manner that captures and maintains the young readers attention throughout the book. Issues such as poverty, famine and starvation are contrasted with concepts such as imagination, self-empowerment and education in way that a child can understand and appreciate without feeling overwhelmed. Zunon's intensely beautiful illustrations comprised of oil-painted backgrounds with carefully cut pieces of fabric, paper and old photographs create vibrant and textured collages that compliment the text and subtly mirror William's story by assembling old pieces of various materials to create a new whole that at times seem to have a story of their own to tell.

Although the story told in the book culminates with the construction of the windmill, William's story does not end with that amazing accomplishment. An update on the final pages about William's life after building the windmill is provided so that the young reader can be inspired by how William's hard work and determination paid off and continues to do so for William.

I enjoyed reading The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind with my children and more importantly they benefitted from hearing William's story. The book provided us with an opportunity to discuss important issues like hunger, access to education and the transformative power of science and the imagination. As a parent, I remain appreciative of this heart-warming and thought-provoking book that inspired my children to ask "[c]ould we build a windmill?"
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on February 16, 2015
THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer tells the inspiring story of a young African boy who turned junkyard scraps into a working windmill to generate electricity for his family’s impoverished farm in Malawi.

This Young Readers Edition of Kamkwamba’s well-known adult memoir published in 2009 is likely to spark the scientific interests and imagination of middle-grade students. Readers are gradually drawn into William’s life in his small, rural African village. American children will be amazed at the lack of education and technology available to young William. They will also be moved by his determination and initiative.

While most middle-grade readers aren’t likely to pick up this book on their own, this compelling memoir would be a wonderful opportunity for librarians to collaborate with classroom teachers. Consider using this book as an interdisciplinary, whole-grade reading experience connecting language arts, social studies, and science curriculum.

Readers will enjoy watching the author’s 2009 TED talk at http://goo.gl/ADIHtg.

Be sure to explore the Moving Windmills project at http://www.movingwindmills.org/.

Published by Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Young Readers Group. ARC provided by publisher.
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