Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright (J Newbery Medal)

Thimble Summer

Elizabeth Enright (J Newbery Award)

It was the hottest day in the entire history of the world. At least it felt like it to Garnet Linden as she looked out over her family’s dying crops. Where was the rain? If it didn’t come soon, they would have to harvest their oats for hay and wouldn’t have enough money to pay their mounting bills. On top of all that, her father needed a new barn. Her family not only needed rain, they needed a miracle, but all Garnet had was a small silver thimble that she’d found in the damp, sandy flats of the river. What possible good could that ever do?

Elizabeth Enright’s Thimble Summer received the Newbery Medal in 1939. Her book is a culmination of her grandmother’s childhood stories, her mother’s school days, her own experiences, and various memories of her friends and relatives. All told, Enright gives us a nine-year-old’s memorable summer filled with a high-speed bus ride, runaway chickens, a blue ribbon, a new sibling, and an unexpected sleepover in the town library. Thimble Summer is charming, engaging, and the ideal read for a young reader looking for adventure and suspense without any of the tragedy. It highlights the kindness of strangers and reminds us that family is so much more than blood. Although this story wouldn’t translate well today (as a nine-year old hitchhiking to another town would elicit a call from both local law enforcement and child protective services), readers still have to admire Garnet’s hutzpah when it comes to showing her older brother that she isn’t a total failure while looking good doing it!

In her Newbery Medal acceptance speech, Enright noted the joy she gleaned from writing about children for children since “a child sees everything sharp and radiant; each object with its shadow beside it. Happiness is more truly happiness than it will ever be again, and is caused by such little things.” I think through Garnet Linden, Elizabeth Enright is encouraging all of us to hold onto the magic of delighting in the little things that life has to offer so that we too can experience our very own thimble summer.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba (J Biography)

The Boy Who Harnassed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind 

William Kamkwamba (Juvenile Biography)

The machine was ready.  After so many months of preparation, the work was finally complete: The motor and blades were bolted and secured, the chain was taut and heavy with grease, and the tower stood steady on its legs.  The muscles in my back and arms had grown as hard as green fruit from all the pulling and lifting.  And although I’d barely slept the night before, I’d never felt so awake.  My invention was complete.  It appeared exactly as I’d seen it in my dreams.

William Kamkwamba lives in Malawi, a tiny nation in southeastern Africa that is often called “The Warm Heart of Africa.”  He is the only son of Trywell and Agnes Kamkwamba and brother to six sisters.  His family are farmers—like most of the families in the village of Masitala—and grow maize.  It is a hard life, but one filled with love, family, and friends.  But William is naturally curious and innovative and he begins to build things in his spare time.  When famine strikes his village and he is forced to drop out of school for lack of money, he begins to visit the local library where he discovers an amazing thing that would forever change his world and the people around him.  William discovers science.

The story of William Kamkwamba’s determination to bring electricity to his village is a lesson in perseverance, resourcefulness, and faith.  Whether you call it moxie, pluck, spirit, or spunk, William has it and he truly epitomizes the saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”  Poverty, hunger, and futility are no match for a young boy with a dream of making electricity.  For William knew what building a windmill would mean for himself and his family: “With a windmill, we’d finally release ourselves from the troubles of darkness and hunger.  A windmill meant more than just power.  It was freedom.”

After reading William Kamkwamba’s amazing and inspiring story, two things in particular stuck out.  The first was that after attending and graduating college in the United States and completing an internship with a San Francisco design firm, William chose to return home.  He could have easily found a job and made a respectable amount of money in Silicon Valley or New York, but William followed his heart back to Africa and began using his knowledge and experience to make his community a better place.  Second, even from a young age, William Kamkwamba realized that he was just a small piece in a rather large puzzle.  He knew that we, as humans, were connected and he found comfort and security in that connectedness: “Even though we lived in a small village in Africa, we did many of the same things kids do all over the world; we just used different materials.  After talking with friends I met in America, I know this is true.  Children everywhere have similar ways of playing with one another.  And if you look at it this way, the world isn’t such a big place.”  No, it’s really not such a big place at all, William and thanks to you, it got just a little bit closer.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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