Coding—or computer programming—is ubiquitous in our everyday lives. But when it comes to actually teaching this skill, the U.S. educational system isn’t in step, with only 40% of K–12 schools teaching the subject. And girls and women are dramatically underrepresented in the coding arena. Though tech jobs comprise one of the country’s fastest-growing employment sectors, fewer than 18% of computer science graduates at the college level are women. Now a new line of books from Penguin Young Readers and Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of the non-profit organization Girls Who Code, is taking a step toward changing all that.
The first books out of the gate in the Girls Who Code line are Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World by Reshma Saujani (Viking) and the fiction title The Friendship Code by Stacia Deutsch (Penguin Workshop), both available August 22. In Girls Who Code, Saujani says, readers will see her organization’s curriculum in a graphic novel format, as well as meet real girls and women working in the field, and, she adds, “we hope it will be used in schools and libraries as a first taste of our programs.” The Friendship Code kicks off a series for middle-grade readers featuring five characters “who are using computer science to make a difference,” notes Saujani, describing it as “The Baby-Sitters Club meets coding.” The follow-up, Team BFF: Race to the Finish!, will be published in December. In all, the Girls Who Code line will expand to 14 planned titles, including a coding-themed journal, activity book, and board books, with release dates through summer 2018.
Saujani started Girls Who Code in 2012 after witnessing the gender gap in computer classes first-hand while visiting New York City schools during her 2010 campaign for U.S. Congress. “I would visit schools and see armies of boys learning to code, training to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs,” she recalls. “But in these rooms, girls were missing. And I thought to myself, where are all the girls?” The mission of Girls Who Code is to close the gender gap in technology and teach girls to code. According to Saujanni, “We started with 20 girls in New York City. Today, we’ve taught 40,000 girls in all 50 states. To put that in perspective, only 10,000 girls graduate every year with computer science degrees. That means in five short years, we’ve quadrupled the pipeline.” This summer alone, 1,600 girls will participate in 80 classrooms or libraries in 11 states.
For Saujani, the new publishing partnership represents a broad expansion of the Girls Who Code mission. “We’ve built so much demand for our programs that we actually can’t fill it!” she says. “Everywhere I go, parents ask me how their daughters can learn to code. I wanted to do something so we could reach as many girls as possible. Additionally, I wanted to do something to change pop culture images around what a female computer scientist looks like and does. Releasing a book seemed like the right next step.”
The new author has been in front of audiences supporting both her books and her company in recent weeks. At BookExpo in May, Saujani participated in a panel discussion about the many forms of creativity and the creative process. And last month, Saujani also brought her message to librarians at the 2017 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, where she delivered the opening keynote. In addition to sharing her personal journey, she presented education and industry statistics and lamented the current lack of women in the technology workforce—all information aimed at recruiting librarians to help her get girls interested in coding and change the culture where girls aren’t encouraged in the computer science field.
Disney Gets ‘Click’d’
Back in the day, bestselling YA author Tamara Ireland Stone was one of the proud, the few—girls who code. “I grew up in Silicon Valley and worked in the tech industry for almost 20 years, and for a long time, I’ve been passionate about getting girls excited about S.T.E.M.,” she says. That experience was a big part of inspiring her new novel for middle grade readers, Click’d (Disney-Hyperion, Sept.), which launches a series.
“The idea [for the book] actually came from my sixth-grader daughter,” Stone says. “We’d been talking about her worries around starting middle school, most of which centered around friendships—tricky things like making new friends while holding on to the ones she’d known all her life. Separately, and seemingly unrelated, she was interested in attending coding camp that summer, so I began researching camps designed specifically for girls. One day, the two ideas merged in my head and Click’d was born.”
In the novel, her protagonist, Allie, creates a popular app that she thinks will bolster her friendships, but then discovers a glitch that could ruin everything. Stone notes, “Writing this series gave me a chance to go back to my tech roots with a fun friendship story that I hope will also get young women excited about coding.”
Though she sometimes wonders what her life might have been like had she majored in computer science in college instead of journalism, Stone believes her current career path shares many similarities with the tech field. “Both are all about trial and error,” she says. “Sometimes the writing or the code works and sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, you have to pull it apart piece by piece, find the error, and start over.”
And Stone cites another key connection between writing and coding. “They are both kind of like puzzles,” she says. “You know what you want to create in the end, but getting there is often a huge challenge, filled with small victories and defeats along the way. But when you’re done, when you see your game or your app or your story or your novel come together, it’s a feeling of euphoria like no other. And frankly, it’s addicting. I think that’s what keeps us writers and developers coming back for more.”