Great reads for not-so-eager readers

Ever found yourself asking “What will get my younger reader hooked on reading? Here’s a few key tips from librarians:

  • Graphic novels (or comics) are legit
    They actually use more of your brain than just reading words alone, because you’re deciphering the messages from the words and the pictures together – so don’t tell me they’re not real reading, ok!
  • Audio books are also great
    If the reading isn’t for school and you just want to foster a love of reading – include some audio books! Kids don’t need to be challenged all the time. With an audio book, a kid can get the joy of the story and use their imagination, without the possible struggle or brain strain of reading
  • Over-size fiction = amazing
    Ask a librarian where they’re stored at your local library. They’re kind of a cross between a picture book and a chapter book. Sometimes they don’t have many words at all, but the meaning is really deep. Otherwise, just pick up a great picture book!
  • Be the change
    Are you reading yourself? Do you read to them? Also, start to think about reading being fun and model that in how you react to what they choose (or don’t choose) to read (that Minecraft book is reading too).

Here’s a few great lists with fantastic titles to hook your younger reader:

Best of 2017: Younger Fiction – Christchurch City Libraries

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Best of 2017: Picture Books – Christchurch City Libraries

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Good reads for younger dudes

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When was the last time you read a kid’s book yourself? Here’s a fantastic recommendation: the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney!

Stay tuned to hear more about the author Jeff Kinney – he is talking in Christchurch tomorrow, brought to you by WORD Christchurch and Penguin Books NZ in a sold-out event. We will be reporting back!

The camel ride including two young travellers at the New Zealand International Exhibition 1906-1907: Picturing Canterbury

The camel ride including two young travellers at the New Zealand International Exhibition 1906-1907 [ca. 1906]. File Reference CCL PhotoCD 12, IMG0005.
The three adult camels which offered rides to vistors to the New Zealand International Exhibition (1906-1907) were purchased in Melbourne, Australia. Prior to their departure to New Zealand, the camels gave birth. Accompanied by two baby camels, the three adult camels arrived in Christchurch in October 1906 onboard the S.S. Wimmera. After being unloaded they were conveyed to their destination by cattle trucks which were impractical given their long necks.

Featured as part of the “Wonderland” amusement park section of the exhibition, it cost 3d to ride a camel. The camel handlers were Aboriginal Australians from South Australia. The use of animals at the exhibition was inspected by representatives of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but it was found that the camels were not being mistreated.

The exhibition closed in April 1907, after which some of the “Wonderland” amusements were dismantled and removed to Wellington where they were put on display at Miramar. Although one of the camels died in June 1907, the rest were relocated to Wellington. Following the Miramar “Wonderland” show, one of the camels was given to the zoo in Wellington.

Do you have any photographs of the New Zealand International Exhibition (1906-1907)? If so, feel free to contribute to our collection.

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch and Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

The Camel Ride Including Two Young Travellers At The New Zealand International Exhibition 1906-1907

Credo DK Eyewitness eBooks for Kids

Credo Reference is a great series of online eBooks that you can search and browse. Filled with pictures as well as information, they make a perfect starting point for that school project, or a interesting resource to satisfy a curious mind. Keep the kids entertained (and still learning) in the holidays, with this collection of eBooks.

Whatever they want to do when they grow up, we have it covered.

Meteorologist

Palaeontologist or Archaeologist

Astronaut or Astrophysicist

Geographer

Marine Biologist

Historian

Spy

Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2017

The end of one year and the start of another gives rise to lots of ‘Best of’ lists and reflections on what has stood out for the year. Here’s yet another literary round-up… 

The Best (& Worst) Children’s Books Evening co-hosted at the end of the year by the Canterbury Literacy Association and Christchurch City Libraries once again celebrated the best in children’s books.

Held annually, the event is a way to shout about and share the best books in a light-hearted end-of-year event, with no actual prizes awarded but an opportunity to hear from various experienced and enthusiastic practitioners and experts. It’s also a chance to gather together for the holiday season as a community of children’s literature enthusiasts, with like-minded folks across Canterbury. Attendees included a diverse section of professionals interested in children’s books from the National Library, the University of Canterbury, Christchurch City Libraries and Selwyn Libraries, to teachers and school librarians, all coming together at the newly rebuilt Ōrauwhata: Bishopdale Library and Community Centre.

And the ‘winner’ is…

CoverIt quickly became apparent that Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow – a debut novel by Australian Jessica Townsend – was the most notable book of the night, having been picked by several panellists who presented their top picks of 2017. But never mind about Nevermoor for now, let’s have a look at their other individual favourites…


Bookseller Picks

First up presenting was a representative from Paper Plus Bush Inn, Jo Harvey, who – aside from just Nevermoor – was also enthusiastic about:

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She also wants everyone to know about Those Shipwreck Kids by and Magnus Chase Ship of the Dead. And as for favourite picture books, she picked Tidy by Emily Gravett.

PaperPlus Bush Inn kindly donated bursting book bundles for the evening’s raffle draw.


Dyslexic-Friendly Texts

Katie Lumsden, from Christchurch City Libraries, spoke next about dyslexic friendly texts, and sang the praises about new changes to Overdrive (Overdrive is a digital content platform used by libraries to offer eBooks and audiobooks). It now has a feature to make some texts more accessible for dyslexic readers. An app called Libby has a feature that highlights the text as it reads aloud (only applicable on our Read Along collection). Katie has recently delivered talks on dyslexic-friendly texts and resources at the 2017 LIANZA conference in September in Christchurch.

AshboyKatie chose Ash Boy: A Cinderfella Story by Lucy Coats as her top dyslexic-friendly read of the year. It’s a good fun story says Katie, and, like other books from publisher Barrington Stokes, is printed in traditional dyslexic-friendly reading format using yellow pages, specific layout techniques and sans serif typeface. It has an interest level of age 8-12, yet is edited to a reading level of age 7, to allow ease of reading while still pitching to older readers.

When Cinder Ashok’s father remarries, Cinder finds himself lumped with a horrible new step-mother and step-brothers! They bully Cinder terribly – all he wants is to be left alone in the library, his favourite place in the world. But will a fairy godfather and a royal quintain tournament mean Cinder has a happily-ever-after on the horizon? Fun spin on the Cinderella story.

You can read the first chapter of Ash Boy here.


Top Student Picks

Each year we hear directly from the voice of young readers themselves. Primary school children from Waitākiri Primary School and Redcliffs School Mia, Otto, Evie & Flynn each spoke well and confidently about their favourite titles they read in 2017:

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Katie Lumsden (L) and Sophie O’Rourke (R) presenting their top picks at the Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2017 event, Ōrauwhata: Bishopdale Library and Community Centre, November 2017 

Best Picture Books

Sophie O’Rourke, junior teacher at Waitākiri Primary School, shared her plethora of engaging picture book titles of 2017 that stood out in her classroom, reading some funny highlights and telling us about the reactions and responses she gets from her Year 0-2 to the books – the real test of how well the authors and illustrators have hit the mark. A few highlights from the dozen chosen are  The Scariest Book Ever, Triangle, Creepy Pair of Underwear, A Place to Read (also titled as Are You Sitting Comfortably?) and Bug Bear.

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Read Sophie O’Rourke’s full list of Best Picture Books of 2017


Best Junior Fiction

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Zac McCallum, school librarian

Zac McCallum, formerly a children’s librarian from Christchurch City Libraries and also a previous children’s book awards judge, and now school librarian at Halswell Primary School, shared his delights of 2017 in the junior fiction category, including Nevermoor and:

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson. Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Matthew is trapped in his bedroom by crippling OCD, spending most of his time staring out of his window as the inhabitants of Chestnut Close go about their business. Until the day he is the last person to see his next door neighbour’s toddler, Teddy, before he goes missing. Matthew must turn detective and unravel the mystery of Teddy’s disappearance… Page-turning, heartbreaking, but ultimately life-affirming, this story is perfect for fans of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Wonder. It is a book that will make you laugh and cry. See Zac’s glowing review of The Goldfish Boy.

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See Zac’s Best of 2017 Junior Fiction book list

Also check out My Best Friends are Books, Zac’s brilliant blog of children’s book reviews.


Best Older Fiction and Young Adult Reads

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Author Rachael King, WORD Christchurch Literary Director

Ending the evening was author Rachael King, Literary Director at WORD Christchurch, who told engaging anecdotes about her favourite older fiction and young adult books read in 2017. She was also a judge in the 2017 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children & Young Adults so naturally her list includes a number of notable New Zealand titles.

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No surprise Nevermoor was also in Rachael’s top picks along with The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman and also by Pullman, a graphic novel: The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship 

See the full list of Rachael’s Best of Older Fiction & Young Adult Reads of 2017 and read the library’s interview with Rachael King which includes her all-time top picks of books for children and young adults.

Rachael also wanted to give special mention to what is actually an adult book, Tess, a page-turning eerie novella about a 19-year-old woman – a somewhat supernatural story set in late 1999 Masterson, by New Zealand author and publicist Kirsten McDougall.

WORD Christchurch also donated tickets to raffle off to celebrity children’s author David Walliams sold-out show which they were hosting. Priceless!


That’s a wrap…

Nevermoor was certainly the favourite on the night with three speakers having brought the book along as their favourite of 2017. Touted as Harry Potter meets Alice in Wonderland, the story is about “a cursed girl who escapes death and finds herself in a magical world – but is then tested beyond her wildest imagination.” The panelists said they were pleasantly surprised to find that the book really did live up to its marketing hype. (There are eight more books in the series due out!)

And as for the ‘worst’ part of the event’s title? The books chosen as the ‘worst’ of the year are of a ‘you have to have been there’ type nature – Chatham House rules – but we can say that books about poo got the poo poo!


Big thanks to MC Scott Wolfe, literacy facilitator at UC Education Plus, and member of the Canterbury Literacy Association, who did a cracker job mc’ing – and cracking jokes – at this end-of-year event.

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A large audience of enthusiasts in attendance at the Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2016 Event, South Library, November 2016

 

Child’s Play – Lauren Child

New Zealand is fortunate to have been visited by internationally celebrated children’s authors such as David Walliams, Andy Griffiths and Dav Pilkey in the last year or so, and I have had the pleasure of hearing them. One of the visitors was Lauren Child, the Children’s Laureate for 2017-2019. The best-selling children’s author and illustrator spoke to a huge crowd of fans at her appearance at the Auckland Writer’s Festival in 2017 and we got to hear about her fictional ensemble, what inspires her stories … and what next?

When you think of children’s books you wouldn’t think of Hitchcock, film noir and James Bond but all these are inspirations behind best-selling children’s author and illustrator Lauren Child’s popular books series Ruby Redfort.

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Children’s author Lauren Child speaking at the Auckland Writer’s Festival, May 2017

Beginnings

Child, the multi-talented, prize-winning creator of the Charlie and Lola, Clarice Bean and Ruby Redfort series has sold millions of books, but only – she is at pains to point out –  after years of rejection. Child says:

I never decided I wanted to be a writer… it was drawing and design and love of film that brought me to writing.

Child’s mother was a creative writing teacher who was always trying to get her to write “more exciting” and gave her helpful writing advice, such as the technique of starting a story right in the middle of the action.

For anyone aspiring to break through with their craft or talent, she says “hang in there!” Hers wasn’t instant fame.  She was in her 20s when she wrote her first book (Clarice Bean) but it was a long time before it was published. After it faced many years of rejection, she says she succeeded through determination, not just talent, and having the strength to resist suggested changes she felt would compromise her original vision.

Excuseme but that is my bookClarice Bean Utterly MeClarice Bean DOn't Look NowRuby RedfortRuby Redfort Feel the Fear

Behind the stories: movies and screen as story-writing inspiration

For Child, the subject of Clarice Bean is ‘family’ and “about finding peace and quiet and a place of your own in a busy household.” She adds: “we need daydreaming, floating out the window, blank time” – it is how we get our ideas. Where did Child get her ideas from? Child loved watching TV, especially with other people, when she was growing up – “there was community to it” which she says we have lost with watching things on devices.

Child said growing up her family couldn’t afford a TV Guide, so they just watched whatever came on next. In fact, Child loved television so much she said she would even watch the test cards! One show she loved was Hart to Hart, about a millionaire couple and socialites (complete with a butler) and she got her story-writing ideas from this TV series. Jonathan and Jennifer Hart were an inadvertent crime-solving couple who were disconcertingly upbeat despite the murders that occurred around them each episode. Child says she loves the combination of thriller, comedy, jeopardy and domesticity in stories like this and brings that to her own writing.

Ruby Redfort started as a TV show that Clarice Bean watches in her stories. Ruby is a clever 13-year-old American school-kid who is recruited to a secret agency as a coder. Child has given Ruby vacuous dim-witted parents and their butler is a secret agent minding Ruby and training her up. Child has always been a fan of big thrillers from the 60s, 70s, and 80s – like Hitchcock and Bond – and likes their slower pacing. She loved Bond’s gadgets like poison pens and sleeping dust and set her Ruby Redfort stories in the 1970s because technology then wasn’t like it was today- it was all about “gadgets” (like Ruby’s watch radio) she said then the idea of having your own personal phone would have been amazing. Instead, she makes it so that Ruby has to go to the library (fancy that) to learn new things versus using things like Google and smartphones that are so pervasive in our world today.

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecturally famous Fallingwater was the inspiration for Ruby Redfort’s home.

Movies and TV have really inspired my work. TV made me understand from a very young age how to construct a story. Movies are like picture books in a way because you’re telling as much in pictures as you are in words.

She wrote Ruby Redfort as a film:

I can only write when I can see pictures so although most of them are not illustrated, I can see it like a movie.

Child says she was really moved by Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands because he’s such an auteur… “he’d made something that beautiful in so many ways… it was joined up – one vision where everyone employed to be a part of the film created the vision he wanted so it looked and sounded like a Tim Burton film.”

When she was announced in June 2017 as the new Waterstones’ Children’s Laureate, she declared that her aim will be to forge “stronger links between the world of children’s literature and other art forms such as fine art, film, music, television and design.” The question is, since she loves film and screen so much, when is she going to work on a movie based on her own titles?

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Child admires the auteur work of filmmaker Tim Burton.

Love of reading

Over the years, changes have been made to Child’s books when translated to the small screen. In the Charlie & Lola animated series, junk food chips were changed to banana chips and gymnastics had to be portrayed on a mat instead of a lawn (to role model health and safety.) PC-police aside, Child says that it’s about getting children hooked on reading – “it should be about a love of reading –  not what we should read – so I made Clarice Bean be crazy about this fictional writer and I made it as stupid as I could.”

Child’s childhood – miniature worlds

Child has a young daughter recently adopted from Mongolia, but she doesn’t abide by some by people’s view that unless you’ve had your own children you can’t possibly write for the children, “because we were all children once.”

What seems like an interesting aside to Child’s life is actually another manifestation of her compulsion to create stories. As a young child she got involved in making doll houses and models from about age 7. She was mentored by a miniaturists, becoming one herself. She was using power tools at a young age and says “making miniature scenes taught me a lot.” She explains there’s more sophistication to this than it seems:

You’re creating a world and theme and you’re creating story, there’s quite a lot going on – controlling your world and having things play out they way you want.

She has been working on one particular doll house miniature since she was a a teenager and finds it therapeutic “making and doing.” Later Child got a job as an assistant to renown artist Damien Hirst, albeit only doing spot painting.

Artful text

Child shared with her audience the joy she gets from the interplay between typography, illustration and story. Child says she loves how words can be illustrated (like POW!) and how things don’t have to stay in one form and that it was helpful for her to think about comics when she was writing. She likes using type as animation and with Clarice Bean, she gave each character their own font and typefaces as the ‘voice’ of the character.

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Lauren Child’s miniature scenes are used to illustrate classic fairytales such as her versions of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Princess and the Pea: In Miniature : After the Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

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Children’s author Lauren Child signing books at the Auckland Writer’s Festival, May 2017

What’s next?

Now that she’s finished the Ruby Redfort series she is currently working on a young fiction series that is heavily illustrated – she says it is sort of like the Nigel Molesworth stories (about a boy talking about his school life). We look forward to seeing where her inspirations and talent take her readers next.

 

It’s Margaret Mahy Playground’s 2nd Birthday!

The Margaret Mahy Family Playground opened on 22 December 2015.

Three mornings a week I bike past it, on the corner of Manchester and Armagh Streets. The Park was once part of the Elsie Locke Playground, while the new expanded area was named after Margaret Mahy, one of Canterbury’s most-loved authors.

Portrait of Margaret Mahy by Glenda Randerson
Portrait of Margaret Mahy by Glenda Randerson. Flickr CCL-2012-07-24

Part of the Government’s Recovery Plan following the earthquakes of 2010/11, the playpark is the largest playground in the Southern Hemisphere. Its designers won a New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects Award of Excellence for 2017.

Known for her rainbow coloured wig, her love of children and magic, Margaret Mahy’s books are all about empowerment through exploration and imagination. The park’s activities reflect her philosophy, encouraging children to take safe risks in their development.

Margaret Mahy Playground, November 2017.
Margaret Mahy Playground, November 2017.

There is always activity there. From grandparents taking little ones out for the morning, to larger groups of children in the afternoon, there is something for everyone to play on. There is water play too – great for hot days. The playground offers opportunities for children to take safe risks to promote development and well-being. This explains the “screams of terror and excitement” reported by The Press. The playground is safe for all ages, with lots of safety matting, and sports sun shades too, after this question was raised with the community after opening.

I also see many walking through – there is a pathway into town along the River Avon (Ōtākaro), which borders the park. It is well-lit at night, as is the playground for late night visitors.

My favourite to play on? The tunnel slides on the bank!

Stories at the Margaret Mahy Family Playground
Under 5s storytelling session, Margaret Mahy Family Playground, Thursday 3 February 2016. Flickr 2016-02-03-photo_3263

The Mobile Library will be at the Margaret Mahy Playground on Tuesdays in January 2018 – the 9th, 16th, 23rd, and 30th.

Summertime Reading Club is for the littlies too

Don’t forgot to drop in a great board or picture book into the picnic basket or backpack as you head to the park this summer. They are a great way to entertain and engage with your kids as you lounge in this glorious weather.

Reading a book with tamariki provides awesome opportunities to explore, laugh and build bonds that come from conspiring over the antics of Hairy Maclary or Spot the dog. Maggie and I are looking at cheeky bears, foxes and chicks in this board book at Upper Riccarton Library.

Christchurch City Libraries Summertime Reading Club – Kōrero pukapuka ā te wā o raumati this year is for newborns to teens, covering ages from zero to 13 year olds. Developing language, a curious wonder of the world and love of reading – all come from the books we share right from when our children are babies. Plus there are great prizes to be won!

We will be here at the library all summer, so pop on down and grab a great book. Don’t forget to let us know which books made your day.

If you want some ideas, our Holiday Reading lists are highlight the best books of 2017, including picture books.

The World’s Best David Walliams

David Walliams came into the Christchurch Boys High auditorium through the crowd – a real rock star entrance.  And in kid books circles (and tv entertainment ones) he really is that level of famous. There were about 700 kids and 400 adults here to see Mr Walliams.

Rachael King, WORD Christchurch literary director asked him about the 20 million books he has sold – “All bought and burnt by Simon Cowell”, he said. David had the audience in the palm of his hand from the get go, with stories, heaps of audience participation, and his trademark naughty wit. Even the obligatory Australia diss – The World’s Worst Children?:

Well, I’ve just been in Australia and met a lot of the children …

He read us the tragic tale of Windy Mindy whose farting into wind instruments leads to a galactic end.

The kids in the audience served up stories about why their siblings are so bad. One answer had the crowd in stitches (beautifully conveyed in this tweet):

CoverBad Dad is his latest bestseller, and tells the story of Frank, whose Dad is a banger driver who ends up in jail after being a getaway driver. David read for us a rather splendid excerpt about how one might get the dreadful medical condition Bottom Freeze (including cryogenically freezing your bottom for posterity). 

CoverDavid’s favourite of his own books is Gangsta Granny (my kid’s fave too), and it came from listening to his own Gran’s stories about the Blitz:

Every old person has a story to tell.

He read Gangsta Granny’s famous naked yoga scene (and see Tony Ross’s brilliant illustration came up on the big screen). David gave a big shoutout to his illustrators Tony Ross and Quentin Blake – both in their 80s.

Walliams explained a bit about why he loves a villain:

Without Voldemort, Harry Potter would just be having a lovely day at school.

Burt, the Ratburger villain, was inspired by a contestant in Britain’s got talent who ate cockroaches. Ergh. Miss Trunchbull (from Roald Dahl’s Matilda) is one of his fave villains. It’s that combo of funny and evil,  and who wouldn’t want to be a villain (for a day).

We got to see sneak preview clips of Ratburger (Walliams himself is unrecognisable as the grotty villain), and Grandpa’s Great Escape (Jennifer Saunders is the Matron in that, and veteran actor Tom Courtenay is Grandpa.) He is that rarest of beasts – an author who gets to see his creations come to life first hand, because he stars in the adaptations.

David admits he was a reluctant reader. He went to the library with his family every couple of weeks, and would pick books on the solar system, space travel, and dinosaurs. And then he discovered Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It got him into reading, and to writing.

Roald Dahl is his “gold standard”. When he visited Dahl’s Gypsy Cottage and met his widow, she said kids still ring the doorbell and ask to meet the author. David has visited the Roald Dahl Story Museum and looked at the handwritten manuscripts. He clearly loved the writing set up of Roald Dahl – sitting in armchair, a picture of his much-missed daughter nearby, with a big ball of rolled up choccie wrappers to add to, and a telephone (to put a sly bet on the gee gees).

And David loves his fan mail, and who wouldn’t when kids are so honest:

Little Britain fans – he thinks the funniest thing he’s ever written is this:

10 lucky kids got to ask a question, and got a fab box set of Walliams’ books. A ripper of a prize I reckon. Thanks to David Walliams, WORD Christchurch, HarperCollins New Zealand, Merivale Paper Plus, and the crew involved in the event – and to everyone who came along, you rocked and made it a fun whānau night. It was especially awesome to get to get your book signed and a picture taken. Ka rawe!

The joy of coding

At school in England in the early 1980s I was given the opportunity to join an afterschool computer club. The only problem was that, being the early 1980s, our school didn’t actually have a computer. We had to write our programs in thick, dark pencil on stacks of cards that were taken away to a mysterious place, which we never got to see, where they would be fed into a computer.

Our teacher would bring the output to class the following week (or the week after that if there had been a glitch, or someone else needed the computer that week) and we would pore over the results with eager anticipation. Usually we quickly realised that we had made a fundamental error, and set about re-writing our program before waiting another week (or two) to see how things turned out. It was a glacially slow process, but an almost magical one. I don’t think I ever knew where this semi-mythical computer was, or what it looked like, but I imagined a strange colossal machine the size of a small house, similar to those depicted in Cold War science fiction films such as War Games, which were popular at the time.

Obviously, things are very different now. We are living in the age of the so-called digital native (although this may be a myth), but arguably because computers are so advanced now, we actually have fewer opportunities to tinker under the hood than we did in the early days of home computing. Early computers often required their users to manually input programs (written in languages like BASIC) before you could run them. You could buy magazines full of code for various simple games that you could type into your computer and then run. You could even change the code to alter the parameters of the game. This meant that we learned much more about how computers worked, and how to get them to do what we wanted, than is usually the case these days.

Modern computers are much less amenable to this sort of tinkering. Messing about with the code on your computer is likely to lead to a catastrophic system failure, so although computers are now embedded in almost every aspect of our lives, we often have very little idea about what makes them tick.

The ubiquity of computers in society, coupled with the general ignorance of most people as to how they work, has been recognised as a serious problem. Recently, there has been a strong push among educators to get kids coding. Code clubs have sprung up all over the place, digital technology is set to become part of the New Zealand curriculum, and lots of books have been published aimed at getting kids coding, with varying degrees of success.

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Recently, my 9-year-old daughter and I read a series of three graphic novels called Secret Coders, which aim to teach coding through the medium of storytelling. These books centre around Hopper, a young girl who finds herself at a strange new school. Along with two new friends, Josh and Eni (many of the names in the book reference famous computers or computer scientists, such as Grace Hopper and ENIAC), Hopper falls into a series of adventures that require the gang to solve various puzzles to figure out what’s really going on at the school.

Many of these puzzles require them to program turtle-like robots to perform particular tasks. The puzzles get increasingly complex. As the reader is encouraged to solve these puzzles for themselves before reading on, almost without realising it, by the end of the first book we were writing programs in a computer language called Logo. There are also some owls living in the school who have a very unusual way of communicating in binary, which adds to the air of mystery. The story is genuinely captivating, and kept us turning the pages. The graphics are engaging, the characters are delightful, and the puzzles are intriguing.

At the end of each book there is a link to a website where you can download a version of the Logo programming language and use it to write your own programs to create computer graphics. We tried it, and within minutes we were making snowflakes and other images using what we had learned from the books. A world of warning though – computer code is very unforgiving and one small typing error can give unexpected results, or even stop a program from working at all, which can be frustrating for young children; nevertheless, the necessary concepts were well within the grasp of my 9-year-old daughter. There’s also a nice website with extra activities, and you can even download a file for 3D printing your own replica of one of the robots from the book.

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We had a lot of fun with these books, and I think we learned a lot too. Each volume follows directly on from the previous one, in a continuous narrative, usually beginning with the answer to a puzzle that was set at the end of the last book. We’ve read the first three books, and it seems that there will be more in the series. There are still lots of loose threads to tie up in the story, and there is clearly a lot more to learn about coding. We’ve looked at a few other coding books aimed at kids, but these were the ones that captured our imaginations the most, and it’s not just about learning a particular programming language, but understanding computational thinking – how to break a problem down into its smallest discrete units, each of which can be translated into a simple instruction to a computer, which is a skill that is likely to be applicable to other areas of modern life.

We’re really looking forward to reading the rest of the series. This feel like the start of what could be a long journey to understanding more and more about computers and coding. We intend to keep learning about this stuff, and if we find other useful library resources along the way we will tell you about them in future posts on this blog.

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In the meantime, if you’d like to know more, there is an excellent new biography of Grace Hopper, namesake of the protagonist in “The Secret Coders” books, aimed at a similar age group.

For younger children, My First Coding Book makes a wonderful introduction to computational thinking, with ingeniously creative use of flaps, pull-out tabs, and other devices that kids will be familiar with, to illustrate coding concepts with various games and puzzles…

More about coding

New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults 2017 – winners announced

The winners of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults were announced last night. Drum roll please …

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Margaret Mahy Book of the Year
Snark illustrated and written by David Elliot (after Lewis Carroll), published by Otago University Press (winner of the Russell Clark Award for Illustration)

Picture Book Award
That’s Not a Hippopotamus! Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Sarah Davis,  published by Gecko Press

Junior Fiction (Esther Glen Award)
My New Zealand Story: Bastion Point Tania Roxborogh, Scholastic NZ

Non-Fiction (Elsie Locke Award)
Jack and Charlie: Boys of the Bush Josh James Marcotte and Jack Marcotte, Penguin Random House (Puffin)

Young Adult Fiction (Copyright Licensing NZ Award)
The Severed Land Maurice Gee, Penguin Random House (Penguin)

Te Reo Māori (Te Kura Pounamu Award)
Te Kaihanga Māpere Sacha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan, translated by Kawata Teepa, published by Huia Publishers

Illustration (Russell Clark Award)
Snark illustrated and written by David Elliot (after Lewis Carroll), published by Otago University Press

The Best First Book Award
The Discombobulated Life of Summer Rain Julie Lamb, Makaro Press (Submarine)

Kia ora to the winners, and to the finalists.

Winner of the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year, and the Russell Clark Award for Illustration - David Elliot.
Signing books – Winner of the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year, and the Russell Clark Award for Illustration – David Elliot.

Check out the hashtag #NZCYA on Twitter to see feedback, and tweets from the night.