The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
Written by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Published by Dial, 2012
ISBN# 978-0803735118

Book Review

By day, fourteen-year old William Kamkwamba toils in the drought-stricken fields of his impoverished Malawian village. At night, however, his mind is filled with wonder about how things work: If I can hear the music from a radio, then where is the band? How does a truck’s engine make it go? When the famine finally forces William to drop out of school, he turns to the local library to satisfy his curiosity and thirst for knowledge. And there, he learns that “a machine taller than the tallest tree with blades like a fan” can produce electricity and help irrigate crops. Despite the lack of supplies and doubts of fellow villagers, William is determined to build a windmill. Kamkwamba’s autobiographical picture book, co-written with Bryan Mealor, who also co-wrote the adult best-selling version of this story, chronicles these events in simple storytelling fashion. Elizabeth Zunon’s gorgeous oil paint and cut paper illustrations provide a literal textural complement to this story. A great tie-in to social studies and science units, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is an inspiring classroom read-aloud.

Teaching Invitations

Grades 2-6
  • The Power of Learning. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is an excellent launching point for a discussion of how we learn. Pose the question to your students: How do we learn? If the question is too abstract for younger students, question them specifically about things that they know or know how to do? How did they learn it? Chart responses, perhaps sorting responses into the categories of people, locations, and resources. For more titles that feature school as a site for learning, see our entry on James Rumford’s Rain School.
  • Where Does Our Water Come From? Investigate the water sources in your community and ask your students to consider their own role in water conservation. You may be able to invite a local official whose role it is to ensure water availability and safety to Skype or visit your classroom to speak with students. For a poetic exploration of the water cycle see our Classroom Bookshelf entry on George Ella Lyon’s All the Water in the World.
  • Kid Inventors. Read The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind along with other biographies featuring young inventors, such as Philo Farnsworth and Thomas Edison. Compare their life stories and ask your students to consider the people, resources, and motivations that inspired their innovations. Then, explore the online resources below about kid inventors today. Invite your students to see themselves as inventors – what problem in their personal lives or in their community would they like to solve through the invention of new technology.

Grades 4-8

  • Wind Power. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind does not go into great detail about wind power, particularly how it works on a larger scale. Help your students fill in the blanks by exploring wind power more in-depth, either in small groups or as a whole class, using the books and online links below. What are risks and benefits associated with wind power? What do people say about it in communities that have it? How much power is generated? Are there different reactions to water-based wind power compared to land-based wind power?
  • Understanding Drought. Many students across the United States experienced the effects of drought first hand this summer. Use the resources listed below to expand students’ understanding of drought: its causes, its impact, and responses to drought. Investigate changes over time in rainfall amounts in your community. What can students do to help conserve water on school property and in the larger community? Wherever your school is located, what can students do in your community to help farmers coping with drought in the midwest? Have students create drought “action plans” to conserve water, support farmers, and perhaps change school or family meal plans in response to the anticipated rising cost of food products this fall and winter, or whatever other ideas they come up with themselves.

Grades 7-8

  • Costs and Benefits. While examining in language arts how one person can make a difference, using some of the books and resources listed below, have students in social studies read about the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) grant to Malawi in 2005, for relief from the drought that followed the 2001 drought about which Kamkwamba writes. Discuss what the benefits, and possible drawbacks, of such an infusion of resources. Finally, have students in math do a cost analysis to determine ultimately what the benefits were and how that should guide future investment (see “Next Step”).

Critical Literacy

  • “Gifts” from America. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a testament to the individual curiosity, determination, and intelligence of a young Malawian boy. Yet, the book also states that William “sulked under the mango tree, until he remembered the library down the road, a gift from the Americans” and that he used an English dictionary to figure out the information in the books. Highlight these sections with your students. Does this mean that William would not have been able to succeed in bringing electricity and running water to his village without the help of the United States? What role does the U.S. play in helping the people of impoverished countries? What role should it play? What benefits and consequences does the U.S. presence–whether in the form of personnel, financial backing, or material “gifts” have on the receiving country? What are the benefits and consequences to the U.S.? To the world?

Further Explorations

Online Resources

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind Blog by William Kamkwamba

William Kamkwamba’s TED Talk

Moving Windmills Organization

BBC News: Malawi Country Profile

The United Nations in Malawi

IDA Grant to Malawi for 2005 Drought: Report,,contentMDK:22229775~menuPK:4754051~pagePK:51236175~piPK:437394~theSitePK:73154,00.html

Washington Post: 2005 Malawi Drought

US Summer 2012 Drought
US National Climate Data Center August 2012 Report

US Climate Prediction Center Report for Fall 2012

Time Magazine August 28, 2012 Story on US Midwest Drought & Hurricane Issac

National Geographic August 2012 Story on US Drought Challenge to US Power Grid

NPR Story on Summer 2012 US Drought and Food Price Impact

Alternative Energies
NPR: Energy Story Archives

New York Times: Wind Power Story Archives

New York Times Green Blog: Wind Turbines and Health

Kid Inventors
e-Pals Global Community-Smithsonian Invention Challenge

First: Supporting Kids as Inventors

Ellen Degeneres Show: Kid Inventor Archives

CNBC Story on Kid Inventors


Africa: Food Scarcity and School

Roth, S. and Trumbore, C. (2011). The mangrove tree: Planting trees to feed families. Ill. by S. Roth. New York: Lee and Low.

  • The nonfiction book chronicles the current work of Gordon Sato and the Manzanar Project in Africa. Dr. Sato, who grew up in the Manzanar Internment Camp in California, now devotes his work as a biologist to helping communities in Africa through aquaculture.

Rockliff, M. (2012). My heart will not sit down. Ill. by A. Tanksley. New York: Knopf.

  • As historical fiction, this picture book tells the true story of a small, poor village in Cameroon that sent money to the United States during the Great Depression, to help alleviate the pain of hunger on a small scale.

Rumford, J. (2010). Rain school. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

  • This fictional fiction picture book is based on author-illustrator James Rumford’s experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chad. Each year, the students in the community depicted in the book have to rebuild their school out of clay. During the rainy season, the school turns to mud and disappears, only to be rebuilt again by its students. See our entry on Rain School at:

Wind Power 

Drummond, A. (2011). Energy island: How one community harnessed the wind and changed their world. New York: Frances Foster Books.
  • This nonfiction picture book adopts the first person plural as a narration style, as the citizens of Samso, an island in the middle of Denmark, enthusiastically tell the story of how they transitioned to wind, solar, and biomass energy.

Jefferis, D. (2006). Green power: Eco-energy without pollution. [Science frontiers series]. New York: Crabtree Publishers.

  • This series nonfiction survey book can help your students learn more about different alternative energies, including wind power.

Kaner, E. (2006). Who likes the wind? [Exploring the elements series]. Ill. by M. Lafrance. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.

  • This series concept book for the primary grades explores the concept of wind using a question and an answer format throughout, and small amounts of information to serve as an introduction to the concept.

Parker, (2005). The science of air: Projects and experiments with air and light. [Tabletop scientist series]. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Library.

  • This series nonfiction experiment and activity book provides opportunities to learn more about how air moves and the science behind windmills through simple experimentation.

Walker, N. (2007). Generating wind power. [Energy revolution series]. New York: Crabtree Publishers

  • This series nonfiction survey book details the history of wind power, different ways of capturing wind, and how people use wind power today.

Kid Inventors

Brown, D. (2010). A wizard from the start: The incredible boyhood and amazing inventions of Thomas A. Edison. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Award-winning author-illustrator Don Brown introduces readers to Edison the inventor as a child and shares some of the inventions he is famous for creating as an adult.

Krull, K. (2009). The boy who invented tv: The story of Philo Farnsworth. Ill. by G. Crouch. New York: Knopf.

  • Award-winning biographer Kathleen Krull tells the story of Phil Farnsworth’s busy childhood, how he imagined how inventions could work, with Thomas Alva Edison and Alexander Graham Bell serving as his heroes, and how he came to invent the television by age 22.

Wolfson, D. (1999). The kid who invented the popsicle: And other surprising stories about inventions. New York: Puffin.

  • This nonfiction survey book addresses how a variety of things were invented.
Grace Enriquez About Grace Enriquez

Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.


  1. Unfortunately our library system does not have this book – but it does have the version for adults, so I've reserved that. Thanks for the tip.