There are some books that so powerfully fill the gaps in one's knowledge of the world that, after reading them, you want to recommend them to just about everyone you know. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, by William Kamkwamba and Brian Mealer (William Morrow, 2009, 288pp) is such a book.
William Kamkwamba's childhood in Malawi was happy--his family was loving and supportive, there was enough to eat, there was school to go to, there were many interesting things to do. But then the rains failed, and the government failed, and there was famine. School was no longer possible, and every day there was less to eat...
14-year old William turned to the library to continue his education on his own, and, inspired by a book he found that described wind energy, he set out to create "electric wind." With electricity, he hoped to bring water up from the ground to prevent famine, and he hoped to make a way for his mother and sisters to cook without spending their lives scavenging for wood and choking on smoke. And his windmill, made of salvaged bits and pieces, worked, and brought light and hope to his village. Word of his windmill spread, and brought international attention to William, opening the way for him to continue his education.
Kamkwamba and Mealer make a most excellent storytelling team. You can hear Kamkwamba's voice vividly, bringing his childhood to life almost as if he is telling his story out loud to the reader. They do not rush too quickly to the building of the generator, but instead allow the story to unfold gradually, bringing the place and its people to life. Science geeks in particular will enjoy the detailed descriptions of windmill building, and even I, who am made nervous by fuses, was fascinated by the process of turning "trash" into a working wind generator.
Although boys aren't the only audience who will appreciate this book, it is a quintessentially "boy" story--about boy friendships, and building toy cars, and cool experiments with electricity, and worrying about little sisters. I think it should appeal greatly to teenaged boys here in the US, and I will certainly be giving it to my own boys to read when they are older.
Beautifully written, with absolutely no patronizingly admiring Western Outsider feel to it, astoundingly educational on so many levels--I am glad I read it. I did so after reading Tricia's review of it at the YaYaYas, in which she said: "Just go and read this book now. It’s amazing, awesome, inspiring, and I can go on with the adjectives if you want me to, but I’ll stop for now."
Non-fiction Monday is at The Art of Irreverence today!