Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes
First Second, 2015 91 pgs.
Secret Coders series #1
Hopper is the new girl at school. Hoping to make friends, on the first day she introduces herself to a group of boys, only to be ridiculed and have pudding thrown at her. Retaliation only leaves her as lonely as before. Sitting by herself at lunch, Hopper notices something weird about the birds. One of the boys from earlier, Eni, joins her and confirms her suspicions. The birds around the school have four eyes. They open and shut them in different ways representing binary codes. Eni explains to Hopper how binary codes work and together the new friends see numbers and strange communicating birds all over the school's property. Breaking into a locked shed reveals another cool discovery: a little turtle-looking robot. A sheet of codes is by the robot and the two sleuths figure out how to get the little guy going. This leads Hopper and Eni to a secret tunnel and the worst of the gang of bullies, a boy named Josh. Josh joins the team as they enter into the tunnel only to encounter more bird strangeness and a school employee, who appears to be behind the whole operation. Upon discovering who Hopper's estranged father is, the mysterious mastermind gives the three coders an even bigger challenge to unravel. If they can solve this codded maze the secrets of the school will be revealed to them. If they fail they will need to leave the school FOREVER. What will happen? Crack into the next series installment Paths and Portals released last month to find out.
In an author's note at the end of this humorous graphic novel Printz winner, Yang, explains his love of coding and the desire of himself and his co-author/illustrator Holmes to share this love. Yang got his start in 1984 at a summer enrichment class and was hooked. Ironically, I also took an introductory coding class in 1984, but found it quite boring and didn't really understand it. Because of the class I became comfortable using computers as a tool before many of my peers, but never really had a proper grasp on how they work. This has changed after reading Secret Coders. Coding is explained visually and simply and in an interesting fashion that even an easily bored old timer, such as myself, can understand it. But don't be fooled by the technology, this book also delvers the fun and has an exciting plot. There are mysterious characters who turn out to be more than they appear at first sight (the real identity of the Mandarin teacher was an interesting plot twist). The book is designed nicely and is separated by chapters with binary numbers demonstrated by the birds. The panels scan easily and the comics are expertly drawn and add to the story. Black, white, and green are the only colors used, which helps readers to connect to the story and makes the book less hectic than most graphic novels for this age group. This series will be a great choice for schools, libraries and home use and will appeal to both tech nerds and novices, who might walk away having learned something.