Kamkwamba, William and Bryan Mealer. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope. William Morrow, 2009. ISBN 978-0061730320 273 pp. $
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind chronicles the story of a determined young man from an impoverished African village where people who go to bed at 7:00pm when it gets dark, who teaches himself how to build a windmill that will generate enough current to light up a lightbulb and charge cell phones. Kamkwamba overcomes adversity, schooling himself with books found in the local library, and is eventually invited to come give a TED talk in the US.
I found The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind very readable and relatable. It’s hard not to like a book about a self-motivated student who discovers the library when he can’t afford a formal education!
I liked the tone in a lot of places, like where Kamkwamba says you’ll learn more about maize reading this book that you thought possible, or something like that. There was a lot of good natured, self-deprecating humor. I also liked that he wasn’t explicit about things like prostitution, there seemed to be an underlying subtlety to some of the storytelling, that I appreciated, not that I’m one to shy away from gory details. I especially love his description of Vegas ” …women in their underpants serve free soda.”
Reading about the famine was heartbreaking and horrifying. The science stuff didn’t bother me, I liked reading about transistor radios. Processes like the scientific method are clearly and simply explained without using scientific terms, I don’t think youth will have any problems with it. I love how “What will spin the pedals so I can dance?” becomes a scientific inquiry. I did have a little trouble picturing the bird trap with the rope and rubber and bricks, even with the illustration.
I did spend some time wondering when were getting back to the engaging scene presented at the beginning of the book, where the protagonist tests the windmill for the first time. There was a VERY slow build, but given that he talks about how his father would make up stories that went on for hours, I recognize this as both a cultural thing, and maybe as a learned experience thing, and that deterred my enjoyment of the
narrative. It did pick up around chapter 9, and I found the whirlwind (ha!) of events leading up to the TED talk interesting and inspiring.