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Book cover of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition

By William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, Illustrated by Anna Hymas. Penguin Young Readers Group, 2015. 304 pages, $24.99.
Devon Clarke

In the face of what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles, at the age of 14, William Kamkwamba achieved his goal of constructing a windmill that brought electricity to his family and rural community in Malawi. In the young readers edition of his memoir, Kamkwamba chronicles the thoughts, actions and support he received from his community and the unforeseeable opportunities that his achievement produced. His memoir serves as an inspiration for hope, perseverance in the presence of challenges and understanding the power of STEM to solve real-world problems.

Teachers facilitating science and technology programs for grades 6, 7 and 8 can use this text as a tool to help students understand the practical application of STEM knowledge and skills. For example, when Kamkwamba describes how he uses an engineering design process and related skills to build, test and scale his windmill, this provides a real-life example of how an adolescent boy uses the scientific research and experimentation process.

The book could also be used as a mentor text by teachers facilitating language programs for Intermediate grades involving memoir or autobiographical writing. For example, teachers may consider using the book as a read aloud, drawing attention to the way Kamkwamba organizes his ideas in a chronological sequence that is easy for adolescent readers to follow. Teachers can also highlight Kamkwamba’s use of vivid vocabulary to help readers imagine his reality and the way he defines vocabulary that might be unfamiliar to young western readers.

A note of caution when using this book with students or recommending it for independent reading: While the book is based on the author’s personal experiences, teachers should consider coupling this text with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2009 TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story, to counter this and other narratives that inadvertently perpetuate stereotypes of African nations and peoples.

Devon Clarke is a member of the Peel Teacher Local.