Owners of the latest generation of small humans, especially female ones between four and eight years old, may have noticed a recent trend in children’s publishing: coding story books for girls. For such a forward-looking industry, big tech has historically been one of the most backward in terms of gender representation, with women still making up roughly just 20 percent of software engineers in the US.
At its heart, coding is a powerful, transformative skill that’s available to everyone who has access to a computer. But many authors and entrepreneurs are addressing the gender gap and highlighting the fact that the work of closing it has to begin early – by providing tech-savvy female role-models to inspire young girls in taking their first steps in programming. Here are five of the best coding story books for girls that are already empowering tomorrow’s software superstars.
1. Hello Ruby – by Linda Liukas
Four years ago, Finnish programmer Linda Liukas decided to write and illustrate the book she wished had existed when she was a little girl – one that made the world of computers and coding ‘as something approachable and fun and whimsical.’ The delightful result is ‘Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding,’ whose hero (named after the programming language Ruby on Rails) goes on a quest to track down lost gems. On the way, not only does Ruby introduce children to the essentials of computational thinking, but the grown-up world of software development is appealingly reimagined as a toy-cupboard of cuddly characters. The Linux environment is symbolised by a bookish penguin, for example, while Google is brought to life as a troupe of messy green robots. Most importantly for Liukas is Ruby’s gung-ho attitude to problem-solving, which casts her as an irrepressible female role model for aspiring 5-year-old coders.
2. Dot – by Randi Zuckerberg
As well as a tech-empowered inspiration for girls aged four to eight, Dot – the character created by Randi Zuckerberg, CEO of Zuckerberg Media and, yes, sister of Mark – is on another mission: to instil a healthier relationship between kids and their screens. ‘We need a clear message out in society that it is important to find a balance,’ Zuckerberg told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016, as plans were unveiled to turn her successful picture book into a cartoon series for TV. The lesson she wants Dot to teach both girls and boys? ‘Knowing when to plug in and when to unplug.’
3. Girls Who Code: The Friendship Code – by Stacia Deutsch
Established in 2012 by the American politician and campaigner Reshma Saujani, Girls Who Code is an unstoppable educational outreach project that aims to erase the gender gap in tech by teaching a million girls to code by 2020. Accelerating that vision into reality is the organisation’s bestselling series of books, 13 of which were published by Penguin last year. While one is non-fiction – a fun, fact-filled orientation guide to computing – others form a collection of novels telling the story of female friendships formed around technology, pitched at 8 to 12-year-old readers. Combined, the fiction and fact promises a sense of genuine empowerment: learn to code, and you can reprogram the world.
4. Secret Coders – by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes
One for tech-minded Harry Potter fans, Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel series Secret Coders is a beginner’s course in computer science in comic-strip form. But it’s the puzzle-packed stories, focused on have-a-go heroine Hopper – named after the pioneering American programmer Grace Hopper – that’s in the foreground. While they’re engrossed in scenes such as this one, where the intrepid 12-year-old gets to the bottom of another conundrum at the mysterious Stately Academy school, readers will barely notice that while Hopper’s cracking the code of the binary numeral system – how computers use ones and zeros to process and store information – they’re absorbing it too.
5. Girl Code – by Andrea Gonzales and Sophie Houser
Suitable for a slightly older audience, Girl Code is the true, autobiographical story of Sophie and Andrea, two teens who met at a Girls Who Code summer camp in 2014. The friendship and the skills they forged there resulted in a video game that instantly went viral, and was hotly followed by worldwide media attention, awards and a fast-tracked journey into the heights of the global tech industry. Their story is a real-life demonstration of what can be achieved with a dose of confidence and creativity and an aptitude for learning code. Teen Vogue magazine named them as one of their ‘Top ten teens who changed the world in 2014’ – and the effortless cool and good-humoured swagger with which they did it offer conclusive proof that the stereotype of coding as an exclusively male pursuit is already obsolete.