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Review: ‘Secret Coders’

Can a good story really be told while trying to teach kids how to code? With the push for more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) learning and higher STEM standards in our country’s public schools, it’s no surprise that someone out there is trying to incorporate good storytelling and science. But a story about coding? Leave it to Gen Luen Yang, a former educator with a degree in engineering, to team up with Mike Holmes and give it a try.

Secret CodersSecret Coders
By Gene Luen Yang. Mike Holmes
First Second Books, 2015
Grades 5 and up

When Hopper and her mom move to a new town, her mom enrolls her in Stately Academy. It’s supposed to be the best school in town, but Hopper finds it strange. The building looks like a haunted house. There are numbers written all over the place. The birds are strange, and the janitor is downright creepy. On her first day, she meets Eni, and while they don’t hit it off instantly, together they figure out some of the weirdness in their school. The birds are robots, and their eyes talk in Binary Numbers. The duo, thrilled at their discovery, can’t help but look for more. They really want to find out why the school is run by robots. Their adventure leads them into trouble and leaves you hanging at the end of the story.

By the end of the story, readers will get a good sense of binary numbers, but that computer lesson doesn’t sacrifice a good story. As readers come to the end of the story, they’ll learn a lot about Hopper’s life and what’s been making her tick. Hopefully the next installment will give us an equal glimpse of Eni’s story. The bits we got here were intriguing.

The art is colored in green and white, reminiscent of the old DOS based computers. I certainly remember turning a computer on and getting a black screen and a blinking green cursor, but I’m not sure that the target audience will remember that. I’m not sure how they’ll react to the monotone colors. But there’s a great cartoon feel to the artwork. Exploding eyes to express fear or green evil slits to show the evil glimmer of a character.

So, can a good story really be told while trying to teach kids how to code? My vote is yes. Of course, it has to be done at the hands of experts. Good thing we have an expert team who tried it!

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © First Second Books.

Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. Her collection is also the model for all middle school libraries in NYC. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library, and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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