This post was sponsored by Macmillan, publisher of the Hello Ruby children’s book.
Hello Ruby blew past its initial $10,000 goal on Kickstarter nearly two years ago to become one of the most anticipated children’s books to be launched on the crowdfunding platform. While there are dozens of excellent programming books available that are targeted specifically to kids, what makes Hello Ruby different from other coding books is its surprising lack of code. Any code. Hello Ruby contains no “Hello World” examples, no “Build a Working Calculator” project. There is no mention of language or syntax. In fact, unless you’re reading the eBook version, you don’t even need a computer. Instead, Hello Ruby approaches programming, not as a skill to be taught, but as a way of thinking about a problem.
Written and illustrated by programmer Linda Liukas, formerly of Codecademy and 2013 Ruby Hero, Hello Ruby tells the story of a precocious little girl named Ruby who goes on an adventure to find five gems her father has hidden for her. Along the way, she meets a number of interesting characters that will probably seem a little familiar to those with programming or general computer backgrounds. Ruby has to learn to communicate with the penguins, who can be difficult to understand at times with their utterances of “grep!”, ” awk!”, and “bash!”, and the Snow Leopard, who lives on the mountain and prefers simplicity and purity. Throughout the book, Ruby is faced with problems that must be solved using basic principles of programming such as conditions and loops.
Hello Ruby also introduces young kids to many of the technologies they may come across as they learn to code, all seamlessly worked into the story. Django is not an IDE, but a young boy who wants to help show Ruby how she’s doing something wrong. Android, Firefox, Apple, Linux, and Python all have starring roles as well, and many other technologies are hidden throughout Hello Ruby. Parents will enjoy discovering some of the more subtle ones as they read to their kids, and there are a number of Easter Eggs for those who are more well versed in programming and computer history. For the kids, seeing Django and his pet Python and saying, “Hey, that was in my book,” can help them feel more at ease when they begin exploring actual code. Accompanying the story of Ruby are a number of exercises that allow kids to put into practice, through play, the ideas they just read about.
As someone who has been programming since age 8 on my old Commodore Vic-20, I have worked with dozens of developers, and the one thing that separated the great coders from the mediocre was not their knowledge of a framework, or their grasp of syntax, but their ability to think about a problem like a programmer. Anyone who has read a “Programming for Dummies” book can write a loop, but knowing when to use a loop is a completely different skill set. As technology continues to intertwine our daily lives, it is more important than ever for kids to develop a basic understanding of how this technology functions. Learning to think like a programmer is the first step in both understanding our current world and creating the next, and Hello Ruby can help set kids on this path.
Backers of Hello Ruby on Kickstarter have already begun receiving their books. For everyone else, it’s available now.