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How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk – He Had Me at CODE!

 

HOW TO CODE A SANDCASTLE
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Sara Palacios
(Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

How to Code a Sandcastle book cover

 

How to Code a Sandcastle is written in conjunction with the computer science nonprofit Girls Who Code and includes a forward by its founder, Reshma Saujani

Having a website, I know a little bit about coding, little being the operative word. But author Josh Funk, a software engineer by day, knows a lot. Thankfully. So it’s no surprise that the end result of a Funk and illustrator Sara Palacios picture book collaboration, How to Code a Sandcastle, has yielded such a positive and inspiring read.

Beaches and bots, hmmmm … I had absolutely no idea before picking up my review copy how author and illustrator would pull off this phenomenal feat. I mean, millions, maybe trillions of grains of sand and machinery don’t exactly go together. That’s why I felt compelled to read on and am glad I did!

 

int illustration 1 by Sara Palacios from How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk

Interior artwork from How to Code a Sandcastle written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Sara Palacios, Viking Books for Young Readers ©2018.

 

Narrator Pearl is spending her last day of summer vacation at the beach. She’s determined to build a castle because all of her previous attempts have been thwarted by freewheeling frisbees, slamming surfers and peeing pups. Today, however, she has her “trusty rust-proof robot, Pascal,” in tow who she will code to build a sandcastle. Code, your children will learn, is “special instructions that computers understand.” But Pearl soon realizes that in order to build said sandcastle, her instructions need to be specific because without doing so, Pascal could end up constructing the castle in the ocean or in a parking lot. We also see that there’s a sequence to the problem solving, a good tip for young readers just learning about the importance and practicality of executive functioning. So after 1. Finding a suitable place to build, it’s onto 2. Gathering up the sand, encompassing a three-step process of filling, dumping and patting down. Here’s where a coding trick called looping is introduced: repeating the three step process or sequence until all the steps are done and the sand is piled in place before moving on to 3. Shaping and decorating. When Pascal brings items to decorate the sandcastle that aren’t appropriate (a lifeguard stand, a live crab and a baby’s binky!), plucky Pearl relies on a cool approach called IF-THEN-ELSE to help the robot analyze what can and cannot be used.

When a wave washes away the masterpiece, Pearl doesn’t get discouraged because she has the key to quick and easy re-construction, the code that Pascal can implement. Only now she needs to program Pascal with a way to protect the sandcastle, a code for how to build a moat! Once that’s finished, there’s no telling what else they can do with their coding know-how. What a great way to end vacation!

 

int illustration 2 by Sara Palacios from How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk

Interior artwork from How to Code a Sandcastle written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Sara Palacios, Viking Books for Young Readers ©2018.

 

Funk’s story is funny, creative and easy to follow. By using something as recognizable as a sandcastle for the coding project, How to Code a Sandcastle serves as an ideal vehicle for a gentle, accessible preview of computer science. If only we all could be assisted by robots when we head to the beach. Imagine the possibilities! In her illustrations, Palacios has combined sunshine, sand and STEM in a thoroughly modern and cheerful way. Pascal the robot, who is never portrayed as cold or remote but rather charming and accommodating, is someone any child would want as a friend. And Palacios’ diverse characters fill the pages with a realistic picture of what readers really see when they visit the beach. A two page spread of back matter, “Pearl and Pascal’s Guide to Coding,” explains all the code concepts covered.

If you never thought you or your youngster would get the concept of coding, it’s time to think again. With its goal of getting girls to embrace coding, Girls Who Code will, with the help of wonderful books like this one, succeed in closing “the gender gap” that currently exists in the technology fields. Start your own STEM-themed collection of books by visiting your local independent bookstore today.

   • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read a review of another Josh Funk book here.

ABCs of the Web and Web Design for Kids

We’re Talking All Things Web Today
With ABCs of the Web & Web Design for Kids

 

Math maven Lucy Ravitch is back to share two books about the web which she says are sure to be a hit with parents who want their youngsters to be “in the know” with the computer world and what makes it tick.

ABCs of the Web book coverABCs of the Web, written by John C. Vanden-Heuvel, Sr. and Andrey Ostrovsky, MD, with illustrations by Tom Holmes ( Little Bee Books; $8.99, Ages 4-8), has recently been released as a board book and it’s brilliant! The sturdiness of the pages is ideal for the age group geared for this primer. The catchy rhythm that goes along with it reminds me a bit of Dr. Suess’s ABC book. Just listen…

A is for Anchor tag
Attach with A.
Explore with A.
What begins with A?
Anchor tag brings elements together for a day.

I think it’s a wonderful idea to teach kids at an early age. In its clever approach, the book teaches the basics of a lot of internet lingo and elements. It would be an interesting activity after reading the book to go on the web with your child and look up examples of some of the alphabet letters presented. Even if the child doesn’t understand all the terms, the book is laid out in such a fun way with simple and sleek illustrations I feel kids will ask for it to be read again and again. In fact, it even kept me engaged as a parent! Using such simple words, the authors did a great job of teaching complex topics. Though it’s recommended for ages 4-8, I think you could even introduce this book to younger children.  Concepts are: Domain, Elements, Function, Google, HTML, Internet, JavaScript, Keyword, Link, Mozilla, Node.js, Open Source, PHP, Query, Ruby, SEO, Tag, URL, Virus, WordPress, XML, YouTube, and Z-index.

Web Design for Kids book coverAfter reading Web Design for Kids: Coding for Kids Series, also written by John C. Vanden-Heuvel, Sr., with illustrations by Cristian Turdera (Little Bee Books; $8.99, Ages 4-8), I’d say this 2.0 Geeked out Lift-the-flap edition is more suited for a bit of an older child than the previous title. While it has fewer pages than the other, the pages are more text heavy and the lift-the-flaps seem suited more for an older kids who will be more careful not to pull too hard. Topics included are HTML, CSS, and Javascript. They are each briefly explained and creatively illustrated along with several elements taught within those topics.

Since there is a lot of information in the book, perhaps it should be taken a couple of pages per sitting (even though your child will probably want to lift every flap). My four-year-old daughter enjoyed the pictures and wanted to go much faster than I could read all the information as she was busy flipping open the flaps. I thoroughly enjoyed Web Design for Kids and frankly learned a lot of info myself. While my techie oriented family found the book fun, I recognize it may not be for every child. If your child likes nonfiction books and learning new things though, this is definitely a fab find. Overall, both books are clever and engaging, providing an entertaining and educational way to talk about the elements of the world wide web and web design.

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch
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