Novels to get kids and teens excited about coding!

As someone who cares a lot about broadening participation in computing, and also happens to read a lot of young adult and middle grade novels, I adore books that heavily feature technology and/or kids coding. Just in time for Computer Science Education Week and holiday gift-buying, here are recommendations for some of my favorites! The order below is youngest-to-oldest target audience, and I’ve noted official age/grade ranges. I’m including Amazon links simply because they’re all easily available there, though please consider purchasing books from your local bookstore or from independent online booksellers!

Ada Lovelace Cracks the Code by Rebel Girls. Grades 1–4. This book is part of a series of historical fiction that features women pioneers, from the creators of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. It tells the story of how Ada came to love math and become a pioneer of computer science!

Lauren Impsum: A Story about Computer Science and Other Improbable Things by Carlos Bueno. Age 7+. This story features Lauren, an adventurer who gets lost in “Userland” and has to find her way home by solving a series of puzzles. It reminds me very much of The Phantom Tollbooth, one of my favorite books as a kid, and the puzzles introduce kids to concepts of computational thinking!

Sasha Savvy Loves to Code by Sasha Ariel Alston. Age 7–10. This chapter book stars Sasha, a super smart 10-year old African-American girl who attends coding camp along with her best friends! The story is engaging and great for introducing kids to the opportunities and fun of coding.

The Girls Who Code series (with forewords by Reshma Saujani): #1 The Friendship Code and #2 Team BFF: Race to the Finish! by Stacia Deutsch, #3 Lights, Music, Code! by Jo Whittemore, and #4 Spotlight on Coding Club! by Michelle Scheusterman. Grade 3–6. The books are kind of like The Baby-Sitters Club (which I love!) but with coding instead of babysitting! It features a really diverse cast of girls, and the plots are the kind that I suspect are really engaging to elementary school girls even if they’re not already interested in coding.

Secret Coders series by Gene Luen Yang (author) and Mike Holmes (illustrator). Grade 3–7. Another book with puzzles! This is a graphic novel that features a group of kids who solve mysteries at their school using their knowledge of basic programming concepts. There are 5 books in the series!

Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido. Grade 3–7. This book written in verse (and published by Kwame Alexander’s Versify imprint) is the story of 12-year-old Emmy who starts at a new school where she reluctantly takes computer science as an elective and discovers a connection between coding and something that she really loves — music. I absolutely adore this book (and recommended it as one of my favorite books of last year); the story is really great and the weaving together of code into the verse itself is magical.

Jinxed by Amy McCulloch. Grade 3–7.This book features coder Lacey Chu, who dreams of working for the giant tech company that makes customizable tech “pets” (that make me think a bit of His Dark Materials daemons). There isn’t enough middle grade science fiction in my opinion, and this fits the bill!

Click’d and Swap’d by Tamara Ireland Stone. Grade 3–7. This book stars Allie Navarro, who after spending a summer at code camp, is psyched to build a social app for a competition, and it’s a huge hit… but also has some privacy glitches… Both books in this duology have engaging stories on their own (friendship! crushes! betrayal!) but also show how cool and attainable creating tech yourself can be.

Warcross and Wildcard by Marie Lu. Grade 7+. In this science fiction YA novel, Warcross is a massively popular immerse augmented reality game, and Emika Chen is a championship gamer and a hacker. These books are great and also (especially the second one) really delves into ethical and privacy issues with technology.

Slay by Brittney Morris. Grade 7+. I’ve seen this YA novel described as Ready Player One meets The Hate U Give. Though the protagonist in this story, game developer Kiera, is the actual creator of an amazing immersive online game for Black gamers! I really loved this book, and also recommended it as one of my favorites of last year.

The Silence of Six by E.C. Myers. Grade 7+. This book stars Max, who finds himself on the other side of a government-corporate witch hunt after his best friend’s death, and he has to use his hacking skills to survive. It also does a really nice job walking the line between technobabble that non-coder-teens would find off-putting and “bam, magic!” sort of unexplained computing concepts that come off as unrealistic.

Little Brother and Homeland by Cory Doctorow. Grade 8+. This YA science fiction duology also features a teen hacker, Marcus, who fights against a massive government surveillance system. This is definitely a classic of the hacktivist fiction genre, and shows that teens can fight against the system, and like Silence the Six, it brings up ethical issues related to surveillance and hacking without being too preachy. Doctorow also recently released Attack Surface, an adult novel set in the same universe.

Also a shout-out to some comics: Batgirl since Barbara Gordon is a hacker/libarian in many stories, and Squirrel Girl, who is a computer science major!

And finally, I’ll add a plug for Code Camp with Barbie and Friends by Devra Newberger Speregen which isn’t so much a novel as an activity book to introduce kids to basic concepts of computational thinking. I also consulted with Mattel on this book and wrote the introduction!

These are all books that I’ve personally read and can recommend, but I’m sure there are many more out there with kid/teen coders! Please comment with your own recommendations and I will add a list to the bottom of this post. Happy coding!

Faculty in Information Science at CU Boulder. Social computing, copyright, ethics, women in tech, fan communities, geekery. www.caseyfiesler.com

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