The first day of summer break, now nearly two weeks ago(!), as my wife and I were perusing stacks at Barnes and Noble we came across The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kankwamba and Bryan Mealer. It is appropriate that the title give the impression of being a fable, as in many ways it is, but it is the novel's subtitle, Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, that reveals that this book is in fact a memoir, and in many ways a survival story. My wife works in the realm of environmental sciences, and I am a high school English teacher, so this book, at least ion the surface offered something of interest for both of us. This engaging tale relates how an enterprising teenager in Malawi builds a windmill from scraps he finds around his village and brings electricity--and a future--to his family.
As part of the Barnes and Noble quickie recap says: "Enchanted by the workings of electricity as a boy, William had a goal to study science in Malawi's top boarding schools. But in 2002, his country was stricken with a famine that left his family's farm devastated and his parents destitute. Unable to pay the eighty-dollar-a-year tuition for his education, William was forced to drop out and help his family forage for food as thousands across the country starved and died."
This is William's story of growing up in a poor, war-torn African nation and how he uses a love of learning and science (neither of which he is very good at in the beginning) to create a future of possibilties for himself and his village beyond that which they appear to be destined for.
I found this book to be very insightful about how those living in other parts of the world value the opportunity of a secondary education, perhaps much more than those of us living in a nation where it is mandated. I wondered how many of my students would walk 5 kilometers daily to go to the worst available high school, just to have the chance to work hard enough to go to a better one? William's story, and the circumstances under which he succeeds are amazing and presented in a language that does not require an anthropology degree.
This book also struck me as the type of selection that educators should read for some insight into how we can communicate the value of learning and the many avenues one can take to reaching their goals. The Boy Who harnessed the Wind is the type of novel that school's seeking to promote cross-discipline reading should embrace, though given the lack of hip urban lingo and absence of sparkling vampires, I am unsure how quickly it would move through some approval processes... I would be curious to read what others (science teachers, students, etc.) think, and highly recommend this book as an engaging summer read.