If you’re reading this, it’s thanks in part to coding. At its core, coding is another word for computer programming, or the means by which one creates a set of instructions that powers a computer’s functions. And in a world filled with myriad tech devices, apps, and games, coding has never been so important. As a result, many educators – and students, too – believe that coding and other aspects of computer science should have a prime spot in school curricula at every level. Various organizations have been beating this drum for a while now, and the beat has gotten louder since the Association for Computing Machinery launched the first Computer Science Education Week in December 2009, with support from the National Science Foundation and other key groups in the field. The annual weeklong observation is now an activity of Computing in the Core, which is described on the CSE site as “a non-partisan advocacy coalition of associations, corporations, scientific societies, and other non-profits that strive to elevate computer science education to a core academic subject in K-12 education.” In conjunction with CSE, the nonprofit Code.org site holds its annual Hour of Code event, which is a global initiative to introduce students to computer science, “designed to demystify code and show that anybody can learn the basics.” The organization was founded in 2013 with a mission to expand access to computer science and increase participation in the discipline by girls, women, and underrepresented students of color.
As explained on the hourofcode.com website, people can host or take part in an Hour of Code anytime, but the goal of the grassroots campaign is to get tens of millions of students to try one hour of coding during the designated week in December. The site contains tutorials, promotional materials, lesson plans, and other support for educators and students of all ages and skill levels. Last December, President Obama launched Hour of Code by writing his first line of code, becoming the first U.S. president to program a computer.
This year’s CSE and Hour of Code – December 7-13 – are off and running, and more children’s book publishers than ever are on the bandwagon, offering titles designed to get kids excited to learn how to make computers work.
On December 2, Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, a nonprofit group formed to inspire, educate and equip girls with essential computing skills, announced a partnership with Penguin to publish computer science and coding books. “We’re facing a massive gender gap in computer science, spurred by three decades of telling girls that computing and technology are not for them,” Saujani said in a statement. “Girls Who Code set an ambitious goal to reverse this trend and close the gender gap in tech. With Penguin, we’re one step closer to achieving our mission. Together, we will teach a generation of female coders and inspire them to use technology to change the world.”
The new line makes its debut in summer 2017 with Girls Who Code: Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration for Taking Over Tech (Viking), an illustrated nonfiction introduction to coding aimed at readers ages 10 and up that includes activities and profiles of women and girls who code. Also arriving in summer 2017 is the initial title in a fiction series for readers 8-12 from Grosset & Dunlap about girls who use coding to create art, make money, or otherwise make a difference. The series will include activities for readers, too. In all, the recently announced deal will yield 11 titles ranging from a coding-inspired journal to a board book series.
In the picture book realm, Macmillan’s Feiwel & Friends imprint has released Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding (Oct.) by Finnish author, illustrator, coder, and computer-science education advocate Linda Liukas. “Hello Ruby came to us two years ago and was presented to me as the highest funded children’s book on Kickstarter,” recalls publisher Jean Feiwel. (Liukas’s project raised $380,000 in total, $10,000 of that in 3.5 hours in early 2014; Feiwel signed it soon after.) In the book, Ruby is on a journey to find magic gems and meets new friends, including a snow leopard and penguin, as she solves logic problems along the way. “It’s an introduction to coding in narrative fiction,” Feiwel notes. “It’s from a coder’s point of view but also shows that coding is a creative endeavor for girls to learn, a new language. Ruby is figuring out a puzzle and going on a search. Liukas was making it accessible and fun and that was fascinating to me.”
Feiwel was also won over by Liukas’s spirit. “She is so enthusiastic and knowledgeable. What a great platform and a great mission. There has been a legacy of misinformation. Each generation of girls doesn’t want to inherit a fear or trepidation about these things. I think what Liukas did for me was to provide a bridge between an average person thinking they are not necessarily interested in computers, but then they discover they are.”
No Starch Press, the San Francisco-based publisher that specializes in books on computing, science, and math, has offered a range of coding titles for young readers since 2012, beginning with Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming and Super Scratch: Learn to Program by Making Cool Games. According to publisher Bill Pollock, creating coding books for kids involves a lot more than just adding drawings or corny jokes to a tech manual. “We are constantly asking ‘how do we make it appealing to kids, so that anyone can pick it up and do it?’ ” he says. “We put a lot of editorial work into stepping back to make sure we have something that will make sense to a kid. We assume they don’t know anything, but we assume they want to learn. We want kids to be able to walk away from our books with a real understanding and be able to talk with someone about it.” Pollock believes that their approach of aiming for such standards is a key to keeping his company relevant. “Five-year-olds who are learning to program today are going to be my readers 15 years from now,” he adds.
No Starch’s expanding roster of coding books includes The Official ScratchJr Book: Help Your Kids Learn to Code by Marina Umaschi Bers and Mitchel Resnick. Bers has created the KIBO robotics platform for kids 4-7, and Resnick is the creator of the popular programming language Scratch, and directs the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab. A forthcoming title that is creating some buzz is Learn to Program with Minecraft: Transform Your World with the Power of Python by Craig Richardson. “It’s taking coding into an environment where kids are already familiar,” says editor Tyler Ortman. “They can play the game and interact with it through code. It’s games within the game, and it’s really exciting and visual.”
Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang, illus. by Mike Holmes (First Second, Sept.), is the first in a series of graphic novels featuring the students of Stately Academy who use their coding skills to solve mysteries. Printz Award winner Yang has a passion for coding that was stoked in part by 17 years of teaching high school computer science. “As I lectured, I would draw representations of what was happening inside the computer as code was being executed,” he says. “My students responded well to the combination of the words I was speaking and the pictures I was drawing. I always thought that my lessons would work as a graphic novel, and that’s what Secret Coders is.”
Yang says he and Holmes use the graphic novel format to teach foundational coding concepts. “We want Secret Coders to be both a fun story about robot turtles and creepy birds, and a collection of drawn lessons.” The author hopes that Secret Coders books can add support to the global movement to encourage computer science education for all students.
First Second’s editorial director Mark Siegel has a similar take on the title. “With his background as a computer science teacher, Gene is perfect to bring coding education to kids in a diverse, fun way – now more than ever, as schools across the country are falling behind in coding education for kids,” he says. “It’s so vital for young people today to know how their devices work, since they’re more ubiquitous in America every day – and the benefits of being computer-literate are lifelong, and will serve many a budding career.”
DK offers a line of children’s coding books and workbooks, including Coding Games in Scratch, which was released earlier this month, and Coding in Scratch: Games Workbook, due out in January, both written by Jon Woodcock. On the importance of making coding accessible for younger readers, Woodcock wrote in a recent Q&A for his publisher, “We are living in the world of the computers. Being able to program a computer is like speaking another language – it enables an understanding of and access to a culture that you just won’t get if you can’t communicate on equal terms. An understanding of programming changes the way you think about and interact with the modern world.”
Further down the road, Aladdin/Beyond Words has scheduled So, You Want to Be a Coder? for May 2016. It’s a new entry in the nonfiction Be What You Want series for ages 8-12 that explores various careers paths. According to managing editor Lindsay Easterbrook-Brown, “We want to stir up curiosity and passion by introducing kids to something different and then encourage them to go out and learn more about it.” She says the coding title includes profiles of professionals in the field and kids who are pursuing coding as well as kids and adults who are doing amazing things with code,” including Nick D’Aloisio, who at age 17 was the youngest programming whiz kid to be hired by Yahoo and then sold his news app to the company.
With technology showing no signs of slowing down, there is ample opportunity for publishers, educators, parents, and kids to embrace coding and learn the language of how the tech tools in our world work. For eager readers, we’ve included a short list of recent and forthcoming titles below.
Starting from “Scratch”: Coding Books for Young Readers
Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming (No Starch, Dec. 2012)
Super Scratch: Learn to Program by Making Cool Games (No Starch, Oct. 2013)
Lauren Ipsum: A Story About Computer Science and Other Improbable Things (No Starch, Dec. 2014)
How to Code: Level One (QEB, Sept. 2015)
Secret Coders (First Second, Sept. 2015)
How to Code in 10 Easy Lessons (Walter Foster, Oct. 2015)
Hello, Ruby (Feiwel and Friends, Oct. 2015)
Coding with Scratch (DK, Nov.; several 2016 titles in this series)
Official ScratchJr Book (No Starch, Nov. 2015)
Coding Games in Scratch (DK, Dec. 2015; other 2016 titles as well)
Ruby for Kids for Dummies (Wiley, Feb 2016)
So, You Want to Be a Coder (S&S/Aladdin/Beyond Words, May 2016)
Girls Who Code: Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration for Taking Over Tech (Viking, summer 2017)