Yang, Gene Luen and Homes, Mike. Secret Coders
September 29th 2015 by First Second
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Hopper moves to a new town and starts school at Stately Academy, where all the buildings look like haunted houses. She gets off to a rocky start with fellow basketball player Eni, as well as with her Mandarin tecaher, Ms. Hu. Eni later seeks her out and the two make amends, and shares with her his suspicion that the birds on the campus are somehow robotic, since their eyes seem to mimic the computer code for whatever numbers they see. A lesson in binary code quickly turns into a way for the two to solve the mystery of the creepy custodian who keeps on of the buildings locked. They find a turtle robot which has been programmed to blow leaves off the side walk... and other, more sinister things. With the help of Josh and Mr. Bee, the custodian, some of the secrets are revealed, but there will be more in book two, Paths and Portals.
Strengths: This graphic novel was a quick read, and the illustrations are appealing. I liked that Hopper was the main character AND interested in basketball, and also that she and Eni got off to a rocky start but managed to become friends. The coding is explained in simple enough terms that children who don't know anything about it will not be confused and might be interested in learning more.
Weaknesses: The story suffered a bit because of all of the explanations about coding, and I'm not sure how instructive this was. For example, I was unclear (and it might be me) on what programming language they were using.
What I really think: I've coded with html, BASIC, Cobol, Pascal and a little bit of Java. It's great to get children interested in coding, but I've not yet seen a good way to do that. The Day of Coding that our school had was run by a woman who didn't even know there were different computer languages, and the online activities were more drag-and-drop than coding. I've looked into books on different languages for middle grade readers, but just haven't found the right thing yet. I might wait to read book two and see if the story picks up a bit before ordering this.
Thrash, Maggie. Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir
September 8th 2015 by Candlewick Press
Maggie goes off to the same Southern summer camp she has always attended, but as the summer wears on, she feels out of place. She takes up archery, which she enjoys, but she doesn't like the weird rivalry with another girl who wants to be the best in the camp. After a lice inspection, she feels a strong connection to an older counselor, Erin, and starts to realize that she is gay. She confides in a friend, who is generally supportive but somewhat weird about it in the way that the average 14-year-old might be. Erin also feels an attraction to Maggie, but is 19, which makes things difficult. There were two girls in the past who were accused of engaging in quasi-sexual activities, and they were kicked out of camp, but when an adult counselor suspects that Maggie is interested in Erin, she has a conversation about how Maggie needs to not act on her feelings, at least not at camp, so she doesn't get kicked out. I expected the counselor to not be nearly that understanding! Erin and Maggie later write to each other and meet up when Maggie is older.
Strengths: There were many things in this story that felt very accurate, which mkaes sense, since it is based on the author's own experience. I thought that most of the people involved were more understanding of Maggie's coming out than I remember people being in the 1990s.
Weaknesses: Camp stories normally don't do too well in my library, although the graphic format even sells Moby Dick.
What I really think: No objection to the story line, but the book is just a bit on the boring side. The artwork is okay, but nothing fabulous. Trying to decide whether or not to purchase this. Certainly, all of the activities are middle grade appropriate.