Book Review – The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Reader Edition by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Title: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Reader Edition
William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
Elizabeth Zunon

So a few weeks ago, I squeed over the adult edition of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind but recommended that elementary students try the Young Reader version due to some PG-13 content.  Since I recommend it, I thought I ought to actually read it.  As with the adult version, it tells the story of William Kamkwamba a young teen from a poor village in Malawi who is forced to leave school and endures a famine, but rather than giving up, he self educates through a small library and builds a windmill to bring electricity to his village.

In my head, I had pictured a nonfiction chapter book for advance elementary readers and thought this would work very well, maybe get 3rd-6th graders excited about practical science.  I was a little taken aback to discover it was a picture book told much like a fairytale.

First the art.  The art is cool, a sort of mixed media approach with great color balance and slightly three-dimensional effect, but it’s also the sort of cool that will probably excite adults more than kids.  The proportions are a little off on the people and give it a slightly surrealist vibe that I would have found off-putting at ten.

I can’t help feeling they really missed the mark by going the stylized picture book route rather than a more concrete approach with photographs for slightly older children.  The photo of William standing on his quirky construction towards the back of the book is a lot of fun, and I feel like a more concrete approach would have been better for actually getting kids excited about hands on science and recycling.

Overall the word flow is fairly smooth, there were a few pages where I feel they tried to pack in a little too much plot for a picture book, but then the ending cuts off rather abruptly with some vague line about magic.  It would have been a great place for some variation of “I tried it, and I made it.” which was a great quote from Kamkwamba’s first TED talk and really more to the point of his story.

So while I gave the adult version a 5/5, the Young Reader version fell a little short of my hopes.  I’d give it a 3 for story adaptation and 4 for the art, so 3.5/5.


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