Children believe in the impossible. Stories with heroes who face hardship, setbacks, and even defeat win their instant sympathy and when those heroes overcome, succeed and rise to fame and fortune, the child, who has been the hero’s fan from the start, is strengthened in the conviction that anything can happen if you try.
I remember my own inspiring heroes: Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers, Helen Keller, and Jonas Salk. Nothing pleased me more than meeting a character in the pages of a book who had ideas and made them happen. Later, when I discovered they had really lived, or that telephone in my hand was a direct descendant of Alexander Graham Bell’s tireless attempts, I knew my own dreams could come true.
Do you know who William Kamkwamba is? How about the country of Malawi? Kamkwamba was born in that country and nearly died there of starvation when drought resulted in a famine. His family lost their health, their possessions, and their way of life. Soon young William realized a worse threat than no water or food: no hope. His dearest dream was to study science, but, his family could no longer afford to send him to school. Tempted to despair, he found himself hanging out at the one bookcase library of battered old American books. Perhaps this was an opportunity to study his English, he thought, but it turned out to be a bigger lifeline than that.
Naturally, as owner of a private library, I exult in stories that involve libraries, especially when an idea in a book feeds the mind of a child and bursts into life. In this case, the idea was windmills. If this modern day hero, William Kamkwamba, could somehow build a windmill, electricity could be generated, a pump for irrigation could be installed, and they could escape being famine victims again. Of course, he would have to build a pump, but, first the windmill.
Where does a 13-year-old boy find resources for such a project? Even where poor people live, there is always plenty of junk lying about. But, where would he obtain instructions to build a full-sized windmill? Why, his imagination would provide those details.
Read his story yourself, or read it aloud to your family. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind will inspire you all. There is even a picture book version for the younger people in your life. Then, be prepared to observe your children practicing their own resourcefulness and ingenuity.
The best part of this story isn’t the way William brings hope to his community and his nation by bringing electricity to his village. It isn’t even that his success gains him his longed-for education. To me, and for your kids, it’s knowing that fairy-tales still exist in the twenty-first century with real boys in real danger, especially boys who believe they can do anything—and try to make it happen.