5 Reasons You Should Be Reading Secret Coders
Last year, the graphic novel Secret Coders launched with a premise that was a novelty in the world of YA fiction: Three students who set out to solve the mystery at the heart of their school—through coding.
Coders, written by cartoonist Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Mike Holmes, continues this year with more of adventures of Hopper, Eni, and Josh. The second volume, Secret Coders: Paths & Portals, drops in August, and the third, Secrets & Sequences, hits March 2017. (Check out the premiere of the cover of the third volume below.)
The critically acclaimed series is, in theory, meant to teach kids about the importance of computer programming using comics—but it turned out to be a good read for anyone trying to understand more about how the world works. Here are a few reasons you should be reading Secret Coders.
You’ll Be Learning Coding from a Professional
By design, Secret Coders is a series of lessons as well as a story. Yang taught high-school computer science in Oakland, Calif. for 17 years, and he relied on visual references to explain concepts to his students; the graphic novels are a natural extension of that. “I’d do a lot of drawing on the board to explain to my students what was happening with the code,” he says. “Whenever I’d do this, I’d think, ‘man, a lot of this stuff would work really well as a graphic novel.’”
Secret Coders Might Be Educational, But It’s Not Boring
Yes, Yang’s series is meant to teach kids, but he worked hard to make sure it didn’t feel like going to school. “I looked at other educational media, and in a lot of it—even if it was couched in a story—the characters were largely flat and really just there to support the educational aspects of the project,” he says. “I wanted to combine both narrative and educational goals into a single project. I wanted the readers to connect with the characters, and I wanted the characters to be three-dimensional—with flaws and desires that the readers could identify with, so that could carry them through the educational portion.”
Code: It’s Not Just For Computers Anymore
Yang admits that coding is a passion of his, but he sees value in the skills required for the discipline beyond just being able to tell computers what to do. “Even if you don’t grow up to be a coder, a lot of what you learn in a computer science class can be translated into different disciplines,” he says. “Computer science isn’t just about creating code; it’s about training your brain to think a certain way, to train your brain to break complex tasks into simpler ones, to think sequentially, to look for patterns.”
Comics’ Hidden Superpower, Pedagogy!
For Yang, whose previous work includes the multiple-award winning American Born Chinese, Boxers & Saints, and a recent run as writer of DC Entertainment’s Superman (his New Super-Man, featuring a Chinese Man of Steel, launches in July), Secret Coders allows him to explore the hidden potential of the comic medium. “In comics, past, present, and future all co-exist on the page side by side, so it allows you [as a reader] to just dwell on the moment. It allows you to absorb the material a little bit better, especially if you find it confusing,” Yang says. “It’s something I really wanted to play with in Secret Coders. I have these sequences where I’ll show you the code, then I’ll show you how the code executes. And by using sequential, still pictures, I allow the reader to dwell on those moments for as long as they need to to understand what is going on.”
You’ll Enjoy It—But It Might Change Your Kid’s Life
Yang was appointed the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress at the start of the year. His mission statement in that role, he says, is to promote the platform “reading without walls,” meaning he wants kids to explore the world through books. “Specifically, I want them to read books about people who don’t necessarily look like or live like them,” he says. “I want them to read books in a variety of different formats—prose, books in verse, and comic books—and finally, I want people to pick topics that they might find intimidating. I know a lot of kids find the inner working of computers intimidating, and I hope Secret Coders will help them with that.”
The response from the first volume has suggested that audiences are receptive to pushing beyond their comfort zones, and then helping others to do the same. “Just recently, I got this photo from a mom whose first-grader learned how to read binary numbers from the first volume,” Yang says. “She sent this photo of her teaching the rest of her first-grade class how to read binary numbers; it’s really gratifying to see something like that. With Secret Coders, I’m hoping on a very practical level that at the very least it will get kids interested in exploring code a little more.”
— Secret Coders (@secret_coders) May 6, 2016
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