The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is about the resourceful William Kamkwamba, who, at fourteen years old, built a series of windmills from junkyard finds that brought electricity to his impoverished town in Malawi.
From Bryan Mealer’s website:
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is the story of William Kamkwamba, a young man from Malawi, who, at fourteen years old, battled through extreme poverty and hunger to build a series of windmills from scratch that could generate electricity – a luxury enjoyed by only 2 percent in Malawi.
In 2002, one of the worst famines in Malawi’s history killed thousands of people and forced the Kamkwamba family to the brink of starvation. It also forced William to drop out of school since his father, a maize and tobacco farmer, could no longer afford his school fees. But despite this setback, William was determined to get his education. He began visiting a local library that had just opened in his old primary school funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where he discovered a tattered British science book. With only a rudimentary grasp of English, he taught himself basic physics – mainly by studying photos and diagrams. Another book featured windmills on the cover and inspired him to try and build his own.Continue reading...
As his country reeled from hunger, William searched the scrap yards and found old tractor fans, shock absorbers, plastic pipe, and bicycle parts. People teased him and called him crazy, but he continued searching and tinkering and eventually build a crude machine that produced twelve volts and powered four lights. A second machine irrigated a family garden. News of his magetsi a mphepo – electric wind – spread beyond Malawi and William soon found himself traveling the world telling his remarkable story.
Book Club Party Ideas for The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
In thinking of decorations for a book club party for The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind, the two things that come to mind are windmills and the setting of the book, which is in Malawi.
Decorations could include some of the materials that he used to make his windmill: a bicycle tire and chain, motor parts, PCV pipe and Carlsberg beer bottle caps.
|The color scheme of the decorations could be based the the Malawi flag: green, red and black. There are also several party products that are decorated with the flag such as coasters, tile trivets and gift tags (great for party favors!).|
What to Wear
Again, taking inspiration from windmills and malawi, here are some great things to wear to your book club party for The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind. Click on picture for more information.
William learned how to use a dynamo, a device they would attach to the wheel that could power a light bulb. He attached it to a radio and found that he could play the radio by turning the wheel of the bicycle. His friend started dancing to the tunes of Billy Kaunda. William then wondered what could do the pedaling for them so that they both could dance.
Book Club Menu for The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
“In Malawi, they eat maize with every meal, and most families serve this in the form of a doughlike porridge called Nsima, which is made by adding maize flour to hot (but not boiling water) until it becomes too thick to stir, then scooping it into cakes about the size of the American hamburger patties. You tear off a piece, roll into a ball in your palm, then use it to scoop up your Relish – usually beans or leafy greens (mustards, rape or pumpkin leaves). If your family is fortunate, maybe you also have some goat or chicken.” William’s favorite is dried fish with tomatoes. In Malawi, when they could, they also enjoyed eating mangoes.
William has a great sense of humor and I love when he talks about how the Malawians’ bodies depend on nsima. “If a foreigner invites a Malawian to supper and serves him plates of steak and pasta and chocolate cake for dessert, but no nsima, he’ll go home and tell his brothers and sisters, ‘There was no food there, only steak and pasta. I hope tonight I can sleep’”
Book Club Resources
Ratings at the time this post was published
Goodreads: 4.13 stars (1544 ratings)
Amazon: 5 stars (165 reviews)
Barnes and Noble: 4.5 stars (57 ratings)
My rating: 5 stars. I cannot recommend this book enough. The book begins with conditions that few could imagine and ends with how one remarkable boy had the determination to make a difference. Very inspirational!
“This exquisite tale strips life down to its barest essentials, and once there finds reason for hopes and dreams, and is especially resonant for Americans given the economy and increasingly heated debates over health care and energy policy.” – Publishers Weekly
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is the very best of what I love about nonfiction. Not only did I learn of a culture that I knew little about, I found it to be fascinating. William may not have had the best life, being hungry, without schooling, and poor. But he had his imagination and he knew how to use it! – Capricious Reader Blog
Purchase The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind at your favorite bookseller
Book Club Discussion Questions for The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind from HarperCollins.com
1. Could you imagine living without electricity? What would your life be like? Describe William’s life and compare it to American teenagers and even your own.
2. How did the villagers compensate for not having electricity, telephones, or most of the modern conveniences we take for granted?
3. What is the role of magic in the story? What about education? Contrast the two. Is there room for both in a culture? What about education and religion? How do the two impact each other? How did William’s religion influence his outlook?
4. What did electricity and the creation of the windmill mean for William, his family, and his village? What might his accomplishment mean for the world?
5. What motivates people like William to attempt the unthinkable? How would you describe him to someone who’s never heard of his achievement?
6. Compare William to his father and to his mother. How are they alike? How did his parents shape William’s outlook?
7. Imagine what a handful of Williams with some encouragement and financial backing from government and private sources might accomplish. Offer some ideas.
8. Malawi is an extremely poor nation. What are the causes of this poverty and what exacerbates it? How might these causes and influences be overcome? How has the West—think of organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, run by Americans and Europeans—helped to contribute to nations like Malawi’s troubles?
9. William writes of the corruption, greed, nonexistent services, and lack of empathy that turned the drought into a disaster for average people like him and his family. Can you see any similarities with our own culture, both past and present? Think about the American Depression. How did that compare to Malawi’s drought?
10. William was desperate to stay in school but could not because of money. Think about American students. Why do you think with all the opportunities for schooling, students are disinterested in learning? In your opinion, what accounts for the differences between William and his American counterparts?
11. Many Americans criticize public schools and some even question the need for them. Others argue that money doesn’t matter when it comes to education. How does William’s experience address our own debates on the subject? Think about his school, and compare it to American schools. Might William’s life be different if he had access to education without having to pay? How so?
12. What lessons did you take away from William’s story?
About the Author
To learn more about Malawi here are some book recommendations. Click on the picture for more information.
I wanted to finish my post with what I thought was one of the most insightful quotes in the book. William talks about some of the problems of deforestation and lack of electricity in Africa and how they are interrelated. “Few people realize this, but cutting down trees is one of the things that keeps us Malawians poor. Without the trees, the rains turn to floods and wash away the soil and its minerals. The soil – along with loads of garbage runs into the Shire River, clogging up the dams and shutting down the turbine. Then the power plant has to stop all operations and dredge the river, which in turn causes power cuts. And because this process is so expensive, the power company has to charge extra for electricity, making it even more difficult to afford. So with no crops to sell because of the droughts and floods, and with no electricity because of clogged rivers and high prices, many people feed their families by cutting down trees for firewood or selling it as charcoal. It’s like that.”
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