Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Getting More Girls (& Boys) to Love Coding

I have six grandchildren and as they grow older their interests become clearer. All love learning, but not all have the same learning interests. Even when they were very young, some would love to dig in the compost heap with me, and others, not so much. Some would bring every insect inside to examine it, others were less keen. One still heads for my study (where all the books are), and we have to crow bar her out for meals. Her brother was always more likely to head to the back yard (garden) to dig around, look to the sky for birds and so on.

All my grandchildren love books in their own way, but one seems to have her head in a book most of the time. Interestingly, she is also interested in coding, and is very good at mathematics. Another grandson already shows signs of talent in coding and computing and has more recently discovered books. All children are different, but I suspect all could code if taught well. What will the girls and boys in our lives become? Hopefully, both will become wonderful people who will have many interests in life. But vocationally, what might they become? Research evidence suggests that statistically, my grandson has more likelihood of ending up in a career where he will use his strengths in STEM, particularly coding, than my granddaughter. This is a problem. 

Gwendolin Tilghman who is a private equity associate at KKR, works with technology companies as part of the firm’s technology, media and communications, is interested in this area too. She has just written an interesting post that I shared on LinkedIn, which argues for proactive efforts to get more girls into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). She writes:

"I have always been interested in topics relating to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). So, when I started college and was able to learn any subject of my choosing, it was no surprise that I decided to pursue an engineering degree. However, what was surprising was that I seemed to be the only girl to do so, or at least that’s how it felt sitting in a room full of boys throughout many of my classes. Perhaps it should not have been because even though women now represent 47% of the workforce, only 12% engineers are females." 

Clearly action is necessary to encourage girls and young women to consider careers that build on their knowledge and interest in STEM. One the most critical needs will be to encourage girls with an early interest in science and maths to explore coding.

Gwendoline is part of the 'Girls Who Code' initiative in the USA that is seeking to close the gender gap in technology. She comments:

Get Coding (Walker Books)

Where can we start to inspire young girls (and boys as well) to explore coding?  There are some great resources appearing on the market that will help. I was recently sent a great little book designed for primary or elementary school children - Get Coding (Walker Books) that has been produced by Young Rewired State (see below). This is a wonderful little book, it made me want to get to a computer, and to start doing some coding.

It is well designed and very inviting. Each page combines text, step by step instructions and projects to undertake. The first 15 pages are text-based with some headings, pictures and diagrams to make sense of the limited amount of the word descriptions. The reading level is about 8-10 years. Once the reader is through this introduction they can begin a series of missions with Professor Harry Bairstone, 'a famous explorer' who is '... in desperate need of [our] help'. Once we are introduced to the mystery of the lost 'Monk Diamond', we are ready to code our way towards completing our mission. Yes, we will need to know what HTML tags are. And we will learn how to use them as we learn to write HTML code, on our way towards completing the mission. Very soon, we are writing the code for a simple web page, with text and images. Eventually we build our own 'Monk Diamond Discovery Web Page'.

By Mission 5 our young coders will be making their own game 'The House of Volkov's Security Team' that is responsible for protecting some valuable jewels on display in the The House of Volkov'.

This is wonderful stuff, and should be part of every child's primary school education. 

Information of Young Rewired State

Young Rewired State was created in 2009 and is a network of 3000 data specialists with a female founder - Emma Mulqueeny. It has 30% female developers with 60% aged 18-25. It has an interesting methodology based on the principle of rapid prototyping, using the MVP concept of working towards a minimum viable product (MVP). It runs events and programs for technically gifted young people aged 18 and under. It draws together young developers, designers, and those with other technical skills to build projects (mainly phone and web applications) that attempt to solve real world problems. Most of the developers participating in Young Rewired State events have taught themselves or learned coding skills outside the traditional school curriculum.

Information about Girls Who Code

Girls Who Code is a national non-profit organization working to close the gender gap in technology. Its programs inspire, educate, and equip girls with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities. They have been especially effective in impacting skills development for girls in their formative years. At the completion of this academic year, Girls Who Code will have reached 40,000 girls in total, covering all 50 US states during its five-year history. In fact, an impressive 93 percent of their summer program participants said that they now want to major in, or are interested in, computer science because of their participation in the program — this might well mean no longer being the only woman in the classroom!

Friday, May 5, 2017

8 New Novels for Older Readers

In this post I review eight new novels for readers aged 8 years to Young Adult. They arranged in what for me is reverse order. I start with the books for young adult and teenage readers and work my way towards books for primary aged children.

1. 'The Rest of Us Just Live Here,' Patrick Ness

What if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.


Patrick Ness is an extraordinary writer of adolescent and young adult fiction. The award-winning author of 'A Monster Calls' (reviewed on this blog) and 'More Than This' has given us a new book to savour. It's a book that will probably divide readers, even some of his fans. But teenagers living through the experience of following and living in the shadow of others, will I suspect, relate more deeply to it. 


Others will compare it to previous books and perhaps be less enthusiastic. For parents and teachers concerned about sexual encounters, relationships are mentioned but not described or dwelt on. Its about real life for teenagers.

“Not everyone has to be the guy who saves the world. Most people just have to live their lives the best they can.”  

A book suitable for readers 15+
 
2. 'The Year It All Needed,' by Kirsty Murray

On Tiney Flynn's seventeenth birthday, every church bell tolled as if heralding a new year, a new era. Tiney stood in the garden, purple jacaranda petals fluttering down around her. One by one, her sisters came outside to join her; first Nette, then Minna and lastly Thea. It was 11 November 1918. Armistice Day.

For Tiney and her sisters, everything is about to change, but not in the way they might have imagined. Building peace is complicated; so is growing up. From tragedy to undreamt-of joy, from weddings to seances, from masked balls to riots in the streets, Tiney's world will be transformed.

At the end of the war and the dawn of the Jazz Age, Tiney Flynn must face her greatest fears and begin a journey that will change her destiny.

This wonderful piece of historical fiction begins as peace is declared at the end of WWII. It is set in Australia and Europe and written by talented author of eleven books Kirsty Murray. Tiney Flynn has just turned seventeen. What will life be like for Tiney, and all those who are celebrating peace? An excellent book that tries to represent something of the complexity of a time when after the joy and celebration of peace the reality dawns for many that some troops return broken, families have lost loved ones, and many are grieving and adjusting to a world that has changed.

A commendable novel that deals with the impact of war, not just at the front but also at home. Suitable for young adults.

3. 'The Hate You Give,' by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl's struggle for justice.

This is a powerful novel for young adults that unpacks the racism that is evident throughout the world, but which has been brutally evident on the streets of America. This book is inspired by the 'Black Lives Matter' movement that has been born due to the death of many people of colour on the troubled streets of US cities. Angie Thomas opens her story through the interactions of a group of teenagers at a party, followed by a drive home and a death due to a broken tail light. But lives are changed when the main character witnesses the killing of her best friend by a police officer. The sixteen year old central character Starr is an inspiration. A great read for young adults.

The movie rights have already been sold to Fox, with Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games) cast as the star.

4. 'The Heartbeat of Wing Jones,' by Katherine Webber

This is an excellent debut novel about a mixed-race family hit by tragedy in 90s Atlanta.

With a grandmother from China and another from Ghana, fifteen-year-old Wing Jones is often caught between worlds. But when tragedy strikes, Wing discovers a talent for running she never knew she had. Wing's speed could bring her family everything it needs. It could also stop Wing getting the one thing she wants. 


The main character Wing Jones has to deal with her brother being in a coma. She takes up running to help her cope and she discovers an ability she didn't know she had. With grandparents from China and Ghana, and she has struggled to know just who she is. As she runs, she finds a way to distance herself from the tragedy of her brother. The novel is well written, and offers a mix of humour, love and the strength of family. The characters are well developed and their depth adds greatly to an excellent story 

This book is also marketed as 'Wing Jones' with another cover in the UK and Australia. This US title and cover seem more appropriate and aligned with the book.

5. 'Yong: The Journey of an Unworthy Son,' by Janeen Brian

“Yong,” my father said one night as I sat on the earthen floor, stroking my pet cricket and determined to save it from being eaten. “You will come with me to Australia.” Yong doesn’t want to leave Guangdong to travel to the goldfields of Ballarat. But as the firstborn son, he has no choice. On the long and treacherous journey, Yong strives to be an honourable son, while he and his father face many hardships and dangers. But in his heart, he knows the shameful truth – that his honour is a lie. Can a journey change lives? Has Yong the courage to face what lies ahead?

This is a wonderful book for readers aged 9-12 years. It tells of an historical event in the 1850s that few Australians know about. Hundreds of Chinese immigrants who were bound for the Victorian goldfields found themselves stranded on the coast near Robe on the southern coast of Australia. They are well short of Melbourne and have to walk all the way to Ballarat in Victoria. Yong and his father are part of the group. Yong strives to be the type of honourable son expected, but and there are many challenges along the way that test him. This is a story that shines a light on many issues, including racism, prejudice, exploitation of others, and coping with change. It is a gripping tale from award winning South Australian author Janeen Brian.

6. 'Maybe a Fox,' by Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee

A compelling tale about two sisters.

Sylvie and Jules, Jules and Sylvie. Better than just sisters, better than best friends. Jules’ favourite thing is collecting rocks, and Sylvie’s is running – fast. But Sylvie is too fast, and when she runs to the most dangerous part of the river one snowy morning to throw in a wish rock, she is so fast that no one sees what happens when she disappears. At that very moment, in another part of the woods, a shadow fox is born: half of the spirit world, half of the animal world. She, too, is fast, and she senses danger. When Jules goes to throw one last wish rock into the river for her lost sister, the human and shadow worlds collide with unexpected consequences.

The book has been written by Kathi Appelt (Newbery and National Book Award finalist and Pulitzer Prize nominee) and Alison McGhee (New York Times bestseller). It is written in alternate voices, the two foxes, Jules and Sylvie. It's a heartbreaking and charming tale about the bond between two sisters left alone after the death of their father and mother. This is a beautiful story for readers aged 9-11 years that shouldn't be read without a box of tissues.


7. 'A Friend in the Dark,' by Pascal Ruter

A heartwarming and funny story about the power of friendship, perfect for fans of Frank Cottrell Boyce, Jacqueline Wilson and Lara Williamson. Victor is a failure at everything – school, girls, making his dad feel better about his mother having left them. When Marie-Jose, the smartest girl in the class and musical prodigy, starts helping him with his maths homework, there must be something she wants in return.

This poignant and very sensitive novel for readers aged 12-15 is above all a story about friendship and how the strength of bonds with others can get you through the worst of things. When Marie begins to lose her sight, the finding of Victor as a true friend helps her to clear many hurdles.

A lovely story that boys and girls will enjoy.  

8. 'The Turnkey,' by Alison Rushby

Flossie Birdwhistle is the Turnkey at London's Highgate Cemetery. As Turnkey, Flossie must ensure all the souls in the cemetery stay at rest. This is a difficult job at the best of times for a twelve-year-old ghost, but it is World War II and each night enemy bombers hammer London. Even the dead are unsettled. When Flossie encounters the ghost of a German soldier carrying a mysterious object, she becomes suspicious. What is he up to? Before long, Flossie uncovers a sinister plot that could result in the destruction of not only her cemetery, but also her beloved country. Can Flossie stop him before it is too late?

While superficially, some might see this as a simple story about ghosts, it is much more. The real focus is on a clever and strong female character (yes, she's a ghost but...) who spends most of her time settling disputes and listening to grievances to keep the souls at rest. Boys should enjoy the book as well. 

The book is ideal for mid-primary readers. The suspense and mystery with its supernatural plot, will capture the interest of varied readers. Suitable for readers aged 9-12.