Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books February 2012
Kamkwamba, William The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind; by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer; illus. by Elizabeth Zunon.
Dial, 2012 [32p]
ISBN 978-0-8037-3511-8 $16.99
Reviewed from galleys R 5-9 yrs
At age fourteen, William is forced to drop out of school; the drought in Malawi has wreaked havoc on his family’s crops and there is no money for tuition. He starts spending time at the American library, where he learns about windmills and their power to “produce electricity and pump water.” Determined (and, according to his neighbors, slightly “misala,” or crazy), he hits the junkyard and constructs a windmill that produces enough energy to light a small bulb. This is only the beginning for William, who later went on to create a solar-powered water pump in his family’s field and is currently an engineering student at Dartmouth with plans to return to Malawi “to work on renewable energy for electricity and pumping water in villages.” This young reader’s edition of Kamkwamba and Mealer’s bestselling adult title is perfectly whittled down for the picture-book set, and the story of William’s creativity and perseverance is well suited for young dreamers. The language is rich and evocative, from descriptions of the ravages of hunger (“alone with the monster in his belly and the lump in his throat”) to his imaginings of how a windmill could impact his village. Zunon’s compositions seamlessly combine oil paintings with touches of cut-paper collage work, and rich, unexpected colors and textures bring warmth and intensity to the scenes.
Kamkwamba’s tale will appeal to a wide cross-section of kids, from those drawn to human-interest stories to those who like to construct and deconstruct things; supplementary details are provided in the extensive author’s note, which includes a photograph of William atop his actual windmill. HM