Q&A TED Fellows

Harnessing the power of reading: Q&A with illustrator Elizabeth Zunon

Posted by: Thu-Huong Ha

Yesterday, TED Fellow William Kamkwamba debuted an illustrated children’s version of his memoir The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, co-written with Bryan Mealer and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. Since its publication in 2009, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind has been printed in 17 editions internationally. For this Young Readers edition, for ages 6 and up, Kamkwamba’s story is accompanied by Zunon’s uniquely subtle mix of oil and collage.

In conjunction with the launch of the book’s children’s edition, Kamkwamba’s NGO, Moving Windmills Project, is collaborating with the Pearson Foundation on an initiative to send up to 10,000 children’s books to Wimbe lending library, near Kamkwamba’s village in Malawi — the place where his story began. Each time the book is read online, the library receives one new book. So far there have been over 7,000 readings completed online. Learn more. Kamkwamba is now a sophomore at Dartmouth majoring in Environmental Sciences.

We caught up with illustrator and former Côte d’Ivoire denizen Elizabeth Zunon to ask her about this beautiful new edition.

What about this story touched you?

I was touched by William’s problem-solving mentality during a crisis. He endured the drought and had to drop out of school, but still figured out a way to piece together a solution with determination and only the materials that he had.

How did you decide the style of the illustrations?

I love combining oil painted portraits and collage elements, so I thought that exploring this style would fit perfectly for this book. I am always collecting pieces of colored and textured paper and fabric, and taking photographs. I thought that literally “building” the illustrations with my own found items would reflect Williams searching and building process as well.

How do you think your style and William’s story work together to create a new narrative?

I think that they both demonstrate the process of collecting, altering and piecing together disparate parts. Trusting in oneself and in one’s idea, even before it has been completed or is actually successful, is the key to satisfaction. Having the artwork demonstrate the same notions that the story does only enforces the narrative.

What do you hope young readers will learn from this story?

I hope that they’ll learn that you can build your dreams with the pieces that are already around you — that every positive and negative experience you live through is a puzzle piece for the legacy you will leave to others. Hope, courage and endless possibilities live everywhere!