by Sharon Kane
I picked up Secret Coders, by Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes (2015, First Second), for two reasons. First, I recognized the first author as the creator of a number of award-winning graphic novels (a book talk for one of his graphic novels was posted on this site earlier this summer and can be seen here: http://hhpcommunities.com/youngadultlit/2016/07/07/book-talk-boxers-and-saints) and as the 2015–2016 National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature. Also, for a while I have been feeling the need, as the instructions on the bottom of the front cover say, to “Get with the PROGRAM.” I’ve been reading about the value of coding for students and the recommendations for promoting (or even requiring) coding courses in schools. I figured I should learn a bit about it, and what better way to learn how to program computers than through a story told using a graphic-novel format?
The protagonist of Secret Coders, Hopper, has just started at a new school with many creepy characteristics, including a scary janitor, birds that transmit messages through opening and closing their eyes, and binary numbers posted around the campus. Hopper and her new friend Eni figure out the combination to unlock the janitor’s shed; there they find a robot and the program that directs it to complete tasks. Readers are periodically invited to solve logic problems and actively code while following the mystery that is unfolding at the school.
The story stops abruptly, just as three middle school students are given a challenge by the janitor. “Here is another Path Portal, more complex than the one in the courtyard. Succeed in opening it and I will reveal to you the secret of Stately Academy. Fail and you are never to set foot on campus again” (p. 88). Readers are told that the story continues in Secret Coders: Paths & Portals (just released on August 30) and are instructed to visit www.secret-coders.com if they are ready to start coding. Students who visit the site will find downloadable activities, coding lessons, videos, an art gallery, and an invitation to subscribe to Yang’s email list and receive a free comic describing his start in comics.
Secret Coders, with its companion website, offers an interdisciplinary, interactive reading experience. Here’s to the power of binary numbers!
Appropriate for intermediate and middle grades
Math, technology, ELA