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Books of the Week: “Lauren Ipsum” and the “Secret Coders” series

Jan 16, 2018 | By: Isabel Huff

Books of the Week: “Lauren Ipsum” and the “Secret Coders” series thumbnail

Lauren Ipsum: A story about computer science and other improbable things

by Carlos Bueno

This book was recommended to me by a research engineer who attended our presentation at the Society of Women Engineers’ WE17 conference.  She said her daughter has read the book over and over again.  Kids’ reviews are most important, so we knew we should review it!

The book is about a whimsical journey in which young Lauren Ipsum gets lost in the woods and must travel through a magical land filled with all kinds of strange creatures and characters in order to get back home.  The book introduces concepts including Xor (personified in the book as a chameleon who can only turn the opposite color of his surroundings), recursion, semantic turnstiles, algorithms, and more within the story and has additional information explaining those concepts in the back.  Lauren is persistent in the face of problems, patient, clever, and kind.  While kids might not initially understand all of the concepts, they’ll likely enjoy the silly story regardless.

Secret CodersSecret Coders: Paths & PortalsSecret Coders: Secrets & SequencesSecret Coders: Robots & Repeats

by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes

Graphic novels about a (quite tomboy-ish) girl named Hopper at a new mysterious school.  Together with her new friend Eni (and his friend Josh), Hopper tries to figure out what’s going on at the school.  Soon, it becomes clear that the school stores an army of robots, and an evil genius is trying to steal them and take over the world.  The evil genius, Dr. One-Zero, may also be holding Hopper’s dad hostage because he knows so much about coding and about the doctor’s plans.

In their quest to save the world, Hopper and her friends must learn to code, and the books explain concepts including parameters, conditionals, and repeats.  These concepts are explained within the context of the story, so while it’s definitely not hidden that these books are about coding, they don’t read like textbooks either.

The books are narrated by Hopper, who occasionally asks the reader to pause and see if they can solve problems or come up with code before moving on.  The website accompanying the books provides a few video lessons (and links to download a code interpreter, UCBlogo) as well as some downloadable/offline activities which are nice additions for educators.  Hopefully the creators will continue to create more online content; the next book in the series is due out in March.  

Note: There is some very mild violence in the series, and the characters call each other “stupid” jokingly.

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 1223868 and 1223460.  Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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