Can young kids really learn about coding (which we used to call “programming”)? If so, do they need a computer, or can they learn it better through reading and playing board games? Linda Llukas is betting on “yes” and “the latter” as the answers. Her new book, Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding,” developed through a Kickstarter campaign, is her answer. This whimsical story, aimed at kids of ages 4–9 or 4–11, depending on which website you’re looking at, does an excellent job of it. Furthermore, given all the recent controversy about the difficulties of attracting girls and women to programming careers, it’s clearly girl-friendly. This is particularly important as evidence is clear that so many girls are turned off by the typical male representatives of high tech.
Ruby, a young girl, goes on a quest that resembles an adventure game but does”t have all the video game trappings that appeal so much to boys. She runs into slightly disguised coding problems, especially those that involve writing loops. Along the way there are various allusions (also slightly disguised) that will appeal to adults who are in the know, such as the need to find gems, a penguin named Tux, and a snow leopard. One review complained that these are unnecessary for kids, but so what? There are many classics of children’s literature, from Alice in Wonderland to The Simpsons, that contain in-jokes that amuse the adults without bothering the intended younger audience.
Coding is essentially problem-solving. Without hitting the young reader over the head, Llukas emphasizes breaking a problem down into small pieces, planning, and debugging. For example:
Each little Penguin and Ruby does only one small task, but together they are powerful.
“I live up here because I love things that are simply and tidy. And now there’s disorder,” scoffs Snow Leopard. “Look! It blinks! It hurts my eyes…
“Focus on the pure things,” Snow Leopard stoically advises. “Ignore the details that make things different. This will help you come up with a solution.”
Ruby? Gems? Sure. I have no idea how well this works with kids, but it’s worth trying!