During a famine in a small superstitious village in Malawi, William Kamkwamba dreams of returning to school and learning. William wants to make his family, especially his father, proud. He achieves this by building a windmill to bring electricity to his family’s house. “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer shows William’s journey through childhood despite adversity. The book is K-State’s 2020 Common Read, which this year focuses on science.
First of all, I read this book in one weekend. For me, that’s about average. However, the book enveloped my life for those few days. I was right beside William every step of the way.
Nonfiction books can be hard to read sometimes: they can be too factual and not flow well, but I didn’t feel that way about “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.”
The language of the book is beautiful and simple, which accentuates the childhood curiosity of William. William sprinkles in words in Chichewa — his native language — throughout the book as well. The authors do a great job of using the words in context and defining them to keep the reader informed.
Another great thing about the book is the use of photos from William’s childhood. There are sketches of his inventions as well; the original sketch of his windmill is simple but helps the reader envision what the welded together scrap metal and bike dynamo atop bamboo and gum tree poles. Photos bring to life the story and remind the reader it’s true.
While reading this, it struck me how different peoples lives are around the world. I have always known that, but not at the level the book shows. Hearing people live differently around the world and actually learning the details are two different things. William had to drop out of school for three years because of famine and poor harvests. During a famine, William ate one meal a day shared among his large family. Each person only ate a few mouthfuls of food a day for months.
It also struck me how optimistic William stays through his life. As someone who is naturally a little negative, I feel I would have snapped under the pressure. William and his family persevere through everything life throws at them and keep going. It is beautiful.
William’s story is inspiring. Despite the odds, he brings electricity to his small home. Journalists from across Africa report on the amazing feat, which gives him the opportunity to continue his education with support from donors.
Whether you’re a K-State student required to read this book or not, I recommend it. It will give you hope for the future.