More graphic novels to talk about, this time, real-life stories. Some are realistic fiction, some are inspired by moments in the author’s life. All are great reading!
There are a bunch of good graphic novels out, so let’s jump right in – there’s something for everyone!
Recommended for ages 8-12
The third installment of the Secret Coders series picks up right where Paths and Portals leaves off: our heroes, Hopper, Eni, and Josh have to code their way out of trouble with Principal Dean, who’s not only a creep, but a creep who’s thrown in with a super-bad guy, Professor One-Zero, who was also one of Professor Bee’s best students way back when. There are more codes to program, more turtles to run, and an evil plot to foil.
This has been a fun STEM series; explaining coding through the graphic novel format is a great idea, allowing kids to help reason out how things work and run. Readers are invited to download activities to expand their learning. This series makes for a great computer club activity and a great comic book club discussion group topic. Put this one with your Scratch and Ruby programming books, and if you have the chance to get the kids in your life, library, or classroom coding, do it! You will be happy you did.
Recommended for ages 7-11
Seven year-old Owen’s parents drop him off for a visit at Buffalo Bob’s Rootin’ Tootin’ Animal Circus. Uncle Bob’s his great-uncle, but he’s really not looking forward to this visit, no matter how cool these animals are supposed to be. A knife-throwing elephant? A jump-roping giraffe? They HAVE to be people dressed up as animals, right? Pfft. When Owen and his family arrive at the circus, they find chaos: Uncle Bob’s missing, and so are the animals. The number one suspect is Bob’s nemesis, Contorto, and his henchcreeps. Stuck in Uncle Bob’s office while the staff try to find Bob and calm the angry masses of circus-goers waiting to see animals, Owen discovers a box of magical animal crackers. Maybe this circus thing isn’t going to be so bad, after all, especially if he can help save the day with a little help from the magical cookies.
Animal Crackers is a fun story to give to younger readers. It’s a great way to turn kids onto graphic novels and sequential storytelling. Mike Holmes, the artist on Gene Luen Yang’s Secret Coders series, illustrates the wacky, fun hijinks going on in the circus. His characters, particularly Owen and his animals, have wonderfully exaggerated facial expressions and movements to match the story’s pacing. Scott Sava creates a fun intermediate tale that kids will enjoy, and with an Animal Crackers movie coming in March, this is going to be a hot book on shelves and on wish lists.
Recommended for ages 8-12
We’re back at Stately Academy for more coding and mystery with with Hopper, Eni, and Josh! The last time we met the gang, they’d just figured out Stately’s secret: it used to be the campus for the Bee School, where kids learning coding and programming. Determined to learn to program and code, our fearless three find ways to get detention – custodial duties – to sneak in some coding time, but when the principal and his rugby team thugs take an interest in them, things get a little tense.
This is the second volume in the Secret Coders series from National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Gene Yang, and Bravest Warriors/Adventure Time artist Mike Holmes, and both the action and the coding lessons have increased. The characters learn more complex programming codes and requests now, taking readers along with them – and teaching them a funk prank or two in the process, including wacky names to execute commands, and programming fun ways to foil bullies. There’s some solid programming history in here, too, as we learn that Little Guy – the robot turtle and my favorite character, to be honest – speaks Logo, a programming language designed waaaay back in 1967 (may as well be in hieroglyphics to the kids, amirite?). I’m a firm believer in understanding the past to progress to the future, so giving kids that piece of programming history is amazing. The whodunit mystery adds to the fun and keeps the pages turning.
I loved the first book in this series, and evangelize it to kids right and left. I’ve done coding here at my library, and with our kids so wrapped up in Minecraft, it just seems like the smart choice to seize the opportunity and have programming information and fiction available to them wherever they turn. You can probably create a great Secret Coder program: make sure you get enough copies of each volume to have available to the kids, and introduce them to the Secret Coders website, where they can watch instructional videos and download exercises to sharpen their coding skills. They can upload finished artwork to the gallery on the site.
You’ll love Paths & Portals, and so will the kids in your life. Computer labs should consider introducing these novels to get kids familiar with and interested in coding, and libraries, like mine, that will be getting kids on board with Google CS First this summer should definitely make sure to have the first volume out and promote the second one, which hits stores on August 30: just in time for back to school!