Teens Who Inspire

There are plenty of stories in local and national news about children and teens getting in trouble, flunking out of school, and not being good role models. But here I am going to focus on the positive, the extremely positive. Here are a few child “phenoms” (past and present) who excel in their field, are role models for others, and give kids something to aspire to.

The Boy Who Played With Fusion by Tom Clynes. 9780544085114. June 2015. Gr. 10-Adult.


In this upcoming book, The Boy Who Played With Fusion, Tom Clynes writes about Taylor Wilson, who at the age of 14 became the youngest person in history to achieve nuclear fusion. Taylor started out like many children; obsessed with construction equipment and digging in the dirt, but he soon progressed to rocketry and ultimately to nuclear energy. In each of these stages, his interest was all-encompassing. This singular focus propelled him to eventually build a “small star”; a nuclear fusor that reached temperatures of 500 million degrees.

Clynes describes how Wilson’s development came about by the perfect storm of intellect, schooling, parental support, mentoring, and Wilson’s ability to focus and innovate. While this book is aimed at adults and has lots of discussion about fostering giftedness, it makes for an inspiring story for everyone, and would be great supplemental material for a STEM classroom.

The Boy Who Invented TV by Kathleen Krull and Greg Couch (ill.). 9780375945618. 2009. Gr. 1-4.


These days, many teens spend their free time in front of a TV. What they may not know is that they have a fellow teen to thank for this. While Philo T. Farnsworth was 22 years old when the first image from his new invention, television, was broadcast, he came up with the idea and technical plans while he was in high school.

Coincidentally, Farnsworth plays a role in The Boy Who Played With Fusion as well, having invented the Farnsworth-Hirsch fusor that Taylor Wilson modeled his reactor after.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb. 9780316322409. 2013. Gr. 9-Adult.

Malala Yousafzai: Education Activist by Grace Hansen. 9781629708560. 2014. PS-2.

Malala Yousafzai: Shot by the Taliban, Still Fighting for Equal Education by Matt Doeden. 9781467749077. 2015. Gr. 5-8.



It is amazing and wonderful that Malala Yousafzai has become so recognizable and is virtually a household name. While she hasn’t achieved nuclear fusion or invented an electronic medium like the others highlighted here, her impact is enormous.

Malala was an outspoken advocate for education and freedom in her native Pakistan when a Taliban gunman boarded her school bus and shot her, in hope of silencing her. She survived the attack and continues to be an advocate for education as a basic human right.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. 9780061730320. 2009. Gr. 11-Adult.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. 9780803735118. 2012. Gr. 1-3.


When William Kamkwamba was forced to drop out of school, he could have just accepted the fact that his family couldn’t afford the $80 fee to attend school in Malawi. When his family was relying on expensive kerosene to provide light in the darkness of his home, he could have just accepted that as well. Instead, he gathered knowledge, used innovation and intellect, and constructed a windmill that powered his home, helped his community, and made him an international sensation.



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