Secret Coders

From graphic novel superstar Gene Luen Yang comes Secret Coders, a wildly entertaining new series that combines logic puzzles and basic coding instruction with a page-turning mystery plot! Follow Hopper and her friend Eni as they use their wits and their growing prowess with coding to solve the many mysteries of Stately Academy.

What is it

Secret Coders is a series (6 as of October 2018, and I think they are done) of graphic novels where kids have to fight bad guys using programming concepts.

This may sound dry, but the writing and drawing is compelling and the education value is high, but never at the expense of storytelling.

Who is it for

This is for kids who can understand abstract thinking. 7 may be too young, depending on the kid, 8 and up is probably right. A kid who has shown an interest in chess or writing code, is probably old enough and a good match.

What Kids Like

The kids like the fun, funny, exciting storytelling. The content is easily digestible and the experience of reading the books is similar to watching a cartoon on TV.

What Parents Like

I like that the educational aspect is deeper than many other STEM-focused books. These books cover topics such as binary trees, if/else statements, variables and other essential computer science concepts. But again, not in a way that takes away from the pleasure of reading.

The books are a great introduction to computer science, and there are really very few of those. Most CS intros for kids just start with a bunch of code without that initial hand-holding and explanation that many kids need, especially with such an abstract subject.

There is a website for the series: secret-coders.com with activities related to the books, and readers can download a simple coding language called Logo and try some of the code presented in the books.

In Secret Coders, Hooper, Eni, and Josh learn Logo, an ancient and nearly-forgotten programming language! You can learn Logo, too, by downloading and installing UCBLogo! UCBLogo is a Logo interpreter — a piece of software that allows your computer to understand the Logo language. You can download it for free here.

What the Critics Think

The box set and the 5th book in the series (Potions & Parameters) get 4.9 out of 5 stars on Amazon, which is very high.

GoodReads rates the books with an average a little over 4/5 The ratings on Amazon and GoodReads go up as the series progresses.

Common Sense Media gives the series 4/5

Winner of the Mathical Book Award in 2015.

(The Mathical book list is a great set of good books, organized by age.)

Concerns/Flaws

The illustrations are black-and-white (or really, black-and-white-and-green) and it’s possible that some kids, who are used to saturated colors in all their media, will be turned off by this. But that is a minor concern.

Who Made it

The books are written by Gene Luen Yang

From the Macmillan author bio

Gene Luen Yang writes, and sometimes draws, comic books and graphic novels. As the Library of Congress’ fifth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, he advocates for the importance of reading, especially reading diversely. American Born Chinese, his first graphic novel from First Second Books, was a National Book Award finalist, as well as the winner of the Printz Award and an Eisner Award. His two-volume graphic novel Boxers & Saints won the L.A. Times Book Prize and was a National Book Award Finalist. His other works include Secret Coders (with Mike Holmes), The Shadow Hero (with Sonny Liew), New Super-Man from DC Comics (with various artists), and the Avatar: The Last Airbender series from Dark Horse Comics (with Gurihiru). In 2016, he was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow. National Book Awards Finalist

And illustrated by Mike Holmes

Mike Holmes has drawn for the comics series Secret Coders, Bravest Warriors, Adventure Time, and the viral art project Mikenesses. His books include the True Story collection (2011), This American Drive (2009), and Shenanigans. He lives with a cat named Ella, who is his best buddy.

The books are published by First Second, an imprint of Macmillan, with many beautiful and interesting titles, including the ongoing Science Comics series.

History

The first book came out in 2015 and the others were published about every 6 months after that.

Secret Coders (Volume 1)
Gene Luen Yang is the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and is a MacArthur Fellow, a recipient of what’s popularly known as the MacArthur “Genius” Grant. Welcome to Stately Academy, a school which is just crawling with mysteries to be solved! The founder of the school left many clues and puzzles to challenge his enterprising students. Using their wits and their growing prowess with coding, Hopper and her friend Eni are going to solve the mystery of Stately Academy no matter what it takes! From graphic novel superstar (and high school computer programming teacher) Gene Luen Yang comes a wildly entertaining new series that combines logic puzzles and basic programming instruction with a page-turning mystery plot!

Secret Coders 2: Paths & Portals
Hopper and Eni are back in the second volume of the exciting new computer-programming series by New York Times-bestselling author Gene Luen Yang.

Secret Coders 3: Secrets & Sequences
The coders are back in the third volume of the exciting new computer-programming series by New York Times–bestselling author Gene Luen Yang.

Secret Coders 4: Robots & Repeats
Dr. One-Zero has added a new class to Stately Academy’s curriculum. But in “Advanced Chemistry,” they only teach one lesson: how to make Green Pop! While their classmates are manufacturing this dangerous soda, the Coders uncover a clue that may lead them to Hopper’s missing dad. Is it time to use Professor Bee’s most powerful weapon: the Turtle of Light?

Secret Coders 5: Potions & Parameters
Dr. One-Zero won’t stop until the whole town—no, the whole world—embraces the “true happiness” found in his poisonous potion, Green Pop. And now that he has the Turtle of Light, he’s virtually unstoppable. There’s one weapon that can defeat him: another Turtle of Light. Unfortunately, they can only be found in another dimension! To open a portal to this new world, Hopper, Eni, and Josh’s coding skills will be put to the test.

Secret Coders 6: Monsters & Modules
The Coders always knew their programming skills would take them far, but they never guessed they would take them to another dimension! Or to be accurate, one dimension less—to save humanity, Hopper, Eni, and Josh must travel to Flatland, a dangerous two-dimensional world ruled by polygons. If they can return home safely with a turtle of light, they might just stand a chance in their final showdown with Dr. One-Zero!

Where Can I Get it

Amazon and everywhere else

Science Comics

Science Comics: Sharks: Nature

What is it

Science Comics is a series of 20 illustrated books on topics such as: cats, sharks, robots, trees, and the solar system.

Each book is written and illustrated by a different cartoon writer and artist.

More info at the First Second website:

"Science Comics extends our non-fiction offerings to middle-grade readers. The Science Comics books will be narrow-focus, single-topic 128 page narrative nonfiction graphic novels, and a new volume will be published each season. The series will be written and drawn by some of the finest graphic novelists in the industry, and feature introductions by leading experts. Each book will cover topics from the fields of biology, chemistry, and physics, subjects that are part of the classroom curriculum and can be easily worked into lesson plans."

Who is it for

Based on my own observation, eight- to ten-year-olds are the most receptive to these books. They appeal to anyone with an interest in science topics, and who like having a lot of pictures.

What Kids Like

The books are fun and funny, as well as informative, and kids like that they can be entertained while also learning.

There are lots of fun, illustrated books about science topics, but this series gets the balance of humor and education just right.

What Parents Like

My kids like science and nature, but don’t want to sit through a documentary or read a book that is all (or mostly) text.

So I like that there is something that keeps them motivated to open the book and keep turning pages.

What the Critics Think

Goodreads reviews all 20 books with an average rating of around 4/5. The highest-rated of the series is Andy Hirsch’s "Science Comics: Cats: Nature and Nurture" and this is the one that got my kids hooked on the series.

Science Comics: Cats: Nature and Nurture

Popular Science has a review with large sample pages

Who Made it / History

First Second is an imprint company under Macmillan and they began the Science Comics series in 2016 with "Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers" (MK Reed and Joe Flood; Spring 2016), "Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean" (Maris Wicks; Spring 2016), and "Volcanos: Fire and Life" (Jon Chad, Fall 2016). There are now 20 titles with more on the way. The next three in the series will be "Rocks and Minerals" by Andy Hirsch, "Crows: Bird Geniuses" by Kyla Vanderklugt, and "Skyscrapers: The Heights of Engineering" by John Kerschbaum.

First Second has lots of very attractively illustrated books

Where Can I Get it

Thriftbooks has the series, some for less than $6.

And Amazon, of course