Secret Coders: Paths & Portals (First Second)

Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes craft a middle school adventure that leads to lessons on how to write computer code.


94 pgs., Color; $10.99

(W: Gene Luen Yang; A: Mike Holmes)


There’s a big push today to have every student in primary and secondary education learn some coding, i.e., computer programming. Of course, there are many computer languages, and many different ways to teach them, but one language often used to introduce kids to coding is Logo, a.k.a. the “turtle graphics” language that’s been around since the 1960s. Logo introduces the basics of computer programming, including variables, constants, commands, and loops, through projects that have students learn how to write the code to draw different kinds of graphics.

Of course, some kids like things better if they learn it not in class, but as part of a secret club. That approach couples the fun of learning to do things with the even more attractive premise that you are special and are learning stuff that not just anyone can do, and learning it because you want to rather than because you have to. Taking learning out of the classroom also promotes the virtue of independence, because while obedient students often do well in class, if you really want to accomplish anything important, you have to bring your own motivation and your best efforts to the table.

secretcodersThe Secret Coders series, created by Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese, Boxers and Saints)and Mike Holmes (Mikenesses), models this kind of independent learning by following the adventures of three students at Stately Academy. They’re a deliberately diverse lot—Hooper is a girl whose mother teaches Mandarin, Eni is a dark-skinned boy, and Josh is a white boy—but otherwise they’re pretty typical students who love to tease each other and get into a bit of trouble but are basically good kids. They are introduced to coding by the school janitor, Mr. Bee, who used to run a school where coding was taught using robotic turtles. He lets them in on a secret—their current school is built not on an old Indian burial ground (that would be a different story), but on the ruins of the Bee school. Mr. Bee knows where the robotic turtles are stored, along with other materials related to Logo, and he lets them use one of the turtles (“Little Guy”) to help them learn coding.

Of course, the idea in this comic is that you are an active reader, following along with Hooper, Eni, and Josh as they learn Logo commands, write new programs, and debug their programs when they don’t work as expected. The comic goes through each program step by step, explaining what each element means and showing the result of each command, while also pausing from time to time to challenge the reader to figure out what comes next. It’s all set within a school drama, so that while Hooper, Eni, and Josh are learning to code, they’re also learning to deal with ordinary school stuff (like bullies, all of whom seem to play on the rugby team) as well as some out-of-the-ordinary stuff (like a truly evil principal).

Mike Holmes’ art is a good match to Gene Luen Yang’s story—both are goofy so they will appeal to kids, and squeaky clean so they will be approved of by parents and teachers. It’s not clear what age the main characters are, but I’m guessing they’re in middle school, and this book will probably appeal most to kids in elementary school (if they’re interested in coding, or in just knowing what goes on in the big kids’ world) and middle school. It’s also meant for students who are just starting to code—those who already know Logo will probably become impatient with the book’s slow pace through each program.

Secret Coders: Paths & Portals is published by First Second.   You can see a preview here and here, and read more about the series, see a gallery of Logo-generated art, and find other resources for learning to code here. | Sarah Boslaugh


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