Young Readers Edition
Travel to the country of Malawi in Africa by snagging a copy of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, a true story told by an aspiring young scientist. Children will be inspired by a young boy’s hard work and perseverance. Plus, they will have the opportunity to learn about a culture that is likely very different from their own.
Summary of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is about a boy named William Kamkwanba who lives in a small village in Malawi. After his family loses their crop of maize during a drought, they are left with nothing and begin to starve. Inspired by a small library in town, William begins to read books about science and determines to find a solution to his village’s lack of water. Through careful study, determination and creativity, he constructs a windmill that pumps water to their dry land.
I would recommend this book for more advanced readers, and I would also encourage you to read it with your child to ensure they comprehend the story. William is very detailed in the explanations of his experiments and it’s easy to get lost in the information. However, the exposure to the science and the mistakes he is able to learn from along the way are great for teaching a growth mindset!
Also, as a word of caution, there is one scene where William abandons his starving dog because he can no longer afford to feed it; he can barely feed himself. I have cried in front of my students both times that I read this aloud. It’s important for kids to see that books create emotions, so I wouldn’t shy away from this unless you feel your child just can’t handle it yet.
Other Editions of the Book
Share this story with every member of your family by reading the picture book, the young author’s edition, or the adult version. William’s story is accessible to everyone.
Watch the Movie of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
I had the privilege of reading The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind with my students the last two years that I was in the classroom. Daily my students would go home and search for information to learn more about this story. They searched Google Earth to find William’s home in Wimbe and they watched his Ted Talks. One of them also discovered that a movie adaptation of the story was on Netflix. With that knowledge, their enthusiasm for the story sky rocketed. They were so excited to go home and watch it with their families. They sent me pictures of themselves sitting with popcorn on the couch while watching the film. It’s extremely powerful.
- Before reading this book, I would locate Malawi on a map with your kids. Help them to find the location for the setting of this book.
- Give your children some context for how famines can occur and also talk about areas in the world where this is currently happening.
- Watch some videos on YouTube of William Kamkwamba being interviewed. It is not always easy to decipher what he’s saying because of his accent, but this can also lead to an important conversation about language and culture.
- Was there a way to prevent the famine? Is the government of Malawi to blame or do you think the people could have stopped the famine?
- How would you describe William’s character? (Try to lead this conversation towards hard-working, persevering, and kind.)
- Do you enjoy going to school? How does William feel about school? Compare your opinions.
- How would William feel if he was living your life? Do you think he would be as determined or hard working?
- Why do you think the author included the scene about the dog dying in the story?
- If you could invent something to help change your community, what would it be?
- What is one question you would want to ask William if you were to meet him?
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