Posted in Guide, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Create your own Scratch games with Scratch Coding Cards!

scratchcodingcards_coverScratch Coding Cards, by Natalie Rusk, MIT Lab Scratch Team, (Dec. 2016, No Starch Press), $24.95, ISBN: 97-1-59327-774-1

Recommended for ages 8+

Better than flash cards, these Scratch coding cards teach users to design:

  • virtual pets that can eat, drink, and play;
  • games where you can catch things falling from the sky;
  • animated dance scenes with music and dance moves;
  • a bouncing ball game with sounds, points, and other effects;
  • characters that you can dress up with different clothes
  • stories, where you can choose characters, add conversations, and bring your story to life;
  • hide and seek games with characters that disappear;
  • a music program, where you choose instruments, add sounds, and press keys to play music;
  • a game where two characters race one another, and
  • a program that will animate the letters of your name.

Each activity comes with a set of cards, walking users through each action in the process. Every card is fully illustrated and includes screenshots and brief, clear text. I spent the better part of an afternoon creating Pong-type games with my 13 year old when I received my cards to review, and I’m going to start working with my 4 year-old on making up a story using Scratch. I’ve even gushed about these cards to the Collection Development group at my library system, because I love these cards so much.

Librarian or teacher? These cards are a class/program in themselves. Parent, or just interested in learning how to code? You can’t beat these cards for teaching and learning block coding.

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Posted in Fiction, geek, Guide, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Holiday Book Shopping: Science and Tech

Books make fantastic holiday gifts! Need a stocking stuffer or are stumped by a kid who has seemingly everything? Try one of these!

I am guilty of favoring books in the STEM/STEAM areas, because that’s what I love evangelizing to my own kids and the kids at my libraries. Take a look – you don’t need to be a Stephen Hawking-in-the-making to enjoy these.

scratch-playgroundScratch Programming Playground, by Al Sweigart, (Oct. 2016, No Starch Press), $24.95, ISBN: 978-1593277628

Recommended for Ages 8-12

I love working with Scratch for young coders. It’s all about teaching kids how to computer code using interconnecting blocks of code, and the Scratch program, developed at MIT, is free and available online. Scratch Programming Playground walks kids (and grownups – I used this book extensively while putting together programs for this coming winter) through the process of learning Scratch by making cool games, like Fruit Slicer (a Fruit Ninja clone), Brick Breaker (where my ’80s friends at?), and Asteroid Breaker (Asteroids! Remember that one?). There are tons of full-color visuals and step-by-step breakdowns that will have kids programming in no time. I buy No Starch books for my libraries all the time – they’re great to have on hand.

 

how-things-workHow Things Work, by T.J Resler (Oct. 2016, National Geographic Kids), $19.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2555-7

Recommended for ages 7-12

Know a kid who’s constantly taking everything apart to see how it works? This is the book for her or him. It’s loaded with gadgets and how they work; fun facts; in-depth pieces on technology and how it works; profiles of scientists and innovators, and yes, experiments that are totally safe to try at home (with adult supervision, please). Learn how a tablet really works, how an aquarium works to keep fish healthy and happy, even how a toilet works, complete with diagram. Design a roller coaster with your kids – it’s easier than you think! Because it’s a NatGeo Kids book, you know the writing is great; it speaks to kids in easy, clear, fun language that educates and never talks over their heads or down to them. The photos are amazing, and the dog on a surfboard (page 131) is worth the cost of the book all on its own.

science-encyclopediaScience Encyclopedia: Atom Smashing, Food Chemistry, Animals, Space, and More!, by National Geographic Kids, (Oct. 2016, National Geographic Kids), $24.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2543-4

Recommended for ages 8-13

I know, it’s a NatGeo Kids lovefest right now, but it’s well-deserved. The Science Encyclopedia is info-packed with everything kids need to know about physical and life sciences, covering matter, energy, electronics, the universe, and more. There are record breakers, key dates in atomic science, and activities to try at home. Information is presented in 2-page spreads broken out into subject-specific blocks, with stunning photos, fun facts, and hilariously bad jokes (Where does bad light go? A prism!) A glossary, index, and additional resources round this volume out. Fantastic gift for any tween who wants to know more about everything.

 

These are all available now, either in your local bookstore or online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, or IndieBound.

Posted in gaming, geek, Guide, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Minecraft teaches kids Python, empowers future programmers

minecraftLearn to Program with Minecraft, by Craig Richardson (Dec. 2015, No Starch Press), $29.95, ISBN: 9781593276706

Recommended for ages 10+

The kids in my library are obsessed with Minecraft. From 2:30 on, as the kids storm the beachhead that is my children’s room, I hear shouts of, “Don’t touch my skin!”; “GET THE CREEPER! GET THE CREEPER!”; “OMG, get away from the Enderman!”; and “DIAMONDS!” I see the potential of Minecraft, and how it can be a fantastic tool to teach kids to create online worlds. I also, as a children’s librarian and mom of three boys, know that for the most part, they want to kill creepers and each other in some kind of 8-bit battle royale more often than not.

Books like Learn to Program with Minecraft are my gateway drug to programming with these kids. First, I get the fiction in (the GameKnight999 series by Mark Cheverton is available in English and Spanish, and they fly off my shelves), then I introduce coding programs like the Hour of Code, to show them how playing their game actually teaches them the building blocks of coding programs and apps of their own. Finally, I use part of my book-buying budget to buy coding nonfiction to keep around. I love DK’s coding books; those are especially great for my younger coders. My older kids need a little more, though, to keep them interested. That’s where the No Starch Books come in.

No Starch has great programming books for kids and teens, and Learn to Program with Minecraft is a solid addition to middle school and YA collecctions. A heads-up: you have to download Python to work with this book, but it’s a free programming language. Don’t be scared! The book will guide you along your Python/Minecraft journey, with screenshots and step-by-step bullets points that make creating much less stressful.

The book will help you create mini-games within Minecraft, take you on an automated teleportation tour around your Minecraft world, and teach you to make secret passageways. You’ll learn to make lava traps and cause floods, but be a good Minecraft citizen: no griefing.

I don’t quite have the Minecraft skills for this just yet, but I’m confident in my crafters here – I’ll be investing in this for my summer crowd, especially since we’ll be running a Google CS program here in a couple of months. Get kids to love programming, and watch what they come up with. I’m pretty psyched.