Today’s book review is one for the children, but I can assure you that adult readers will enjoy it as well. We read it aloud in the evenings. It was one of those books where you “could hear a pin drop” and brought up a lot of good conversations with our children. I often feel unsure how to impress on them that they are in a very privileged class of people: stable home, meals 3 times a day, their longings and desires taken into consideration when the adults in their lives make decisions, choices- so many choices which are really luxuries. This is the sort of book that helps them to understand this in a way that is not preachy at all, although it does include starving children in Africa. I personally liked the bits that described the utter happiness of a child who didn’t have toys, so he made toys, who didn’t feel a lack of stuff nearly as keenly as the loss of friends.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is William Kamkwamba’s personal story of a childhood in Malawi as the son of a farmer. William describes the games the children play all across Africa, weaving in stories of the folklore and some of the darkness that is so prevalent in the superstitions of the simple people. He feared the magic of the witchdoctors, screaming, a terrified small boy in the night, until his father told him that with God on his side the dark powers of the wizard could not harm him. William’s family was doing all right until a terrible drought hit their entire region and wiped out any buffer they had for survival. The misery and desperation of the food shortage was so widespread, it was hard for anyone to outrun it.
William had to drop out of school because of an inability to pay the fees, but he did not waste his time. With a remarkable degree of determination, he found a loophole into getting books out of the library, teaching himself how to read and make sense of the English language science books in particular. He scrounged endlessly on junk piles for parts for his many inventions. Each one became more sophisticated, closer to his dream of generating electricity, of pumping water out of wells right in the village.
We savored the triumph with William as he described how it felt to be no longer the “crazy boy” when he got his first windmill to produce enough electricity to light a 40 watt bulb.
This is a good book for young tinker-scientist boys. (Mine don’t like the “mad scientist” label, but they do tinker like mad. :D)
You get two for one today. I have a recommendation that pairs well with this book: A Long Walk to Water. For eleven dollars, you can buy the two together, and watch your children’s minds open up in admiration for the resourcefulness of someone they cannot just dismiss as some poor soul in some forsaken country. Teach them compassion for the tremendous obstacles that so many others face with no greater difference than the geographical region of their birth. If you aren’t a book collector, ask your children’s librarian to get them for the shelves. These are books that all American children should read.
One more bonus: You can watch William Kamkwamba’s TED talk for yourself.