Something fishy is going on at Stately Academy, and Hopper is determined to get to the bottom of it. As if being the new kid in school isn’t challenging enough, she also has to deal with some extra weirdness on campus. There are creepy four-eyed birds hanging around, buildings with the number 9 randomly painted on them, locked doors, and a grumpy, somewhat mysterious janitor—all on the first day of the new school year.
What sounds like a teenager’s worst nightmare is actually the backbone of Secret Coders, the first book in a series of graphic novels that teaches kids about coding and basic computer programming. Illustrated by Mike Holmes, and written by Gene Luen Yang, a high school computer science instructor, cartoonist and author of two other graphic novels (American Born Chinese and Boxers and Saints), Secret Coders is designed to use a kid-friendly medium (comics) to teach important 21st century skills (coding).
And it works extremely well. Yang’s ability to break coding into fundamental steps in a non-technical manner through a medium that naturally draws—and holds—a kid’s attention is a winning combination. Not only was I able to read through Secret Coders from cover to cover without my kids losing interest, but they were also able to solve the coding riddles Yang drops like breadcrumbs throughout the book.
An added bonus to the educational side of Secret Coders are the realistic characters Yang uses to populate the story. His character development is spot on and realistic, with protagonist Hopper and her friend and fellow sleuth Eni facing some of the same social issues and challenges that many of the book’s readers face today. This adds an extra dimension to both the story and the characters, making them that much more appealing.
Unlike too many other young adult book series these days, Hopper and Eni don’t rely on magic or mysterious extraterrestrial technology to help them solve the challenges laid out before them. Refreshingly, they default to good old-fashioned problem solving, a touch of scientific method, and the language of coding to get them out of the jams their curiosity gets them into, which is something more YA writers should adopt.
If the rest of the books in the Secret Coders series are as good as the first installment (the second, Paths and Portals, hits shelves in August), not only will your kids have a couple of new heroes to cheer on and talk about around the dinner table, they’ll also definitely be smarter for the experience.
First Second, 88 pp.
Buy Secret Coders here.