Monday, December 7, 2015

Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding & Author Interview

Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding 
by Linda Liukas
112 pages; ages 4-8
Feiwel & Friends, 2015

Imagine a picture book with chapters, combined with an activity book, all with the focus of inspiring young children to play around with tools of computer programming. At the core of this book is the philosophy that play is integral to learning, and that coding is a way to express yourself through play - like crayons or LEGO blocks.

This is no coding guide. Instead, Hello Ruby introduces fundamentals of the kind of thinking that kid coders need: how to break big problems into small problems; how to look for patterns; and how to write step-by-step directions (useful not only in sharing recipes but also in telling a computer what to do).

Ruby, the character in this book, is a small girl with a huge imagination and lots of cool friends. She builds things using her imagination, and that sometimes means making maps, gathering information, and testing out different solutions to problems.

The second half of the book is a collection of activities designed for parents and children to explore together. This is where the actual “coding” comes in. For example, how would you instruct Ruby in making her bed? You see, coding is how you tell a computer what things to do, and what order to do them in. This back section is where you play with logic, meet Booleans, and decode a secret language. Perfect for cold winter afternoons! 

Nothing helps you learn about coding faster than trying it yourself. Head on over to Ruby's website to play some games... some of them require nothing more than a pencil and your imagination. And when you've finished there, check out the resources over at Archimedes Notebook. 

I wanted to know more about how Hello Ruby came about. Author Linda Liukas graciously answered Three Questions. 

Sally: How did you get started in computer programming? And what did you love about it that made you want to do it? 

Linda: I was 13 and madly in love with Al Gore, the then vice-president of US. I had all this teenage girl passion and energy and wanted to make a website for him in Finnish. At the time there was no Tumblr or Facebook, so the only way for me to express all my feelings was by learning HTML and CSS. This has probably influenced my later programming career: for me, coding has always been about creativity, expression and practical application. 

Our kids should learn to bend, join, break and combine code in a way it wasn't designed to - just as they would with crayons and paper or wood and tools. I want to show how coding can be as creative a tool as music or drawing or words. You create something out of nothing, with pure words and thought structures. Learning programming teaches you to look at the world in a different way. 

Sally: Why did you want to write "Hello Ruby" as a picture book? 

Linda: Such a huge part of our daily lives is spent in front of a screen. I believe there's a lot of value in parents and children exploring and interacting offline. That's why Hello Ruby is aimed for 5-7 year olds to be read together at bedtime with the parent, kids who don't necessarily read or write yet on their own. And there's a wealth of knowledge about computers and computing concepts we can teach to the little ones before even opening the terminal. 

Sally: Are there some games parents can play with really young kids before they get on computers? I'm thinking things like putting blocks into patterns (color & shape), but can you think of others? 

Linda: I think computing principles are everywhere around us, and the book familiarizes kids with fundamentals of programming, computational thinking and the attitudes that are important for any future programmer. These include things like the ability to decompose a problem, spot patterns, think algorithmically, debug problems and work together. My hypothesis is that when a kid learns to spot computational thinking in everyday situations, they’ll also be able to learn abstract programming languages more easily. 

Today we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy provided by the publisher.


  1. I would do anything to get my grandkids away from their screens for awhile. Maybe a version of this for older kids????

  2. This makes so much sense! Programming is a completely essential part of our world that most of us know nothing about; we would never even consider introducing our preschoolers to it, but why not? The world they're growing up into is going to be even more programmed!