For too long, computer programming has seemed like a secret world, sealed off from all but the geekiest of maths geniuses. Normal people never needed to know what went on inside their mysterious black boxes: it might as well have been voodoo. That's changing now though. Because computers are essential to the way we live now, computer programmers are essential too. Kids growing up today need to have at least an idea of how computers work to make them useful (and well paid) members of the workforce of tomorrow.
If only there were some way to help them get into computer programming, without putting them off with all that dull maths. If only there were a fun way of introducing programming concepts without them realising they were learning at all, because they're too busy having fun…
Well, there is. We want to write a children's book to help kids discover the world of computers. It's a mixture of learning and adventure, programming and storytelling, and with your help we'll make it a reality.
Grace and Alan are just like any kids: they like to learn. They like to push the limits of what they can do. And they aren't afraid to try new things when everyone says they can't. We want to create a book about Grace and Alan – and their robot, Tinker.
Like any good robot, Tinker is controlled by a computer. He can't think for himself, but Grace and Alan – with our help – can tell him exactly what to do and how to do it. He's limited only by their imagination – which pretty much means he can do anything.
In Beep Beep Yarr!, Grace and Alan are on a quest to find Blackbeard's treasure. To get it they have to find their way out of swamps, escape from crocodiles, crack passwords, find keys, and always stay one step ahead of the pirates who are trying to stop them.
Programming with a story
We’ve spoken to many parents who want computers to mean more to their children than touchscreens and video games. We want them to see behind the curtain and equip themselves for a technology-driven world.
Grace and Alan use computers in the way that we want everyone to use computers. Technology can open up a whole new world, a whole new culture and a new way of thinking. Kids should look at a computer and know that it isn't a mysterious black box that they're not allowed to tinker with. They should be encouraged to play with code, to break things and put them back together, just as they would with Lego, or a Scalextric, or a train set. There should be no rules – this is what makes Minecraft so great, for example.
But there won’t be any programming code in the book. We want 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds to read alone, or with parents at bedtime. We want them to feel fully immersed in the adventure. As far as the kids know, they're escaping from a crocodile. But in reality they might be learning about loops, or conditional statements, or Boolean values.
We’ve also come up with something unique. At the end of each chapter, you and your children can access an interactive challenge online – playable via a smartphone, tablet or computer. These challenges will put the ideas from the book into practice, playing with programming and the main characters from the book to accomplish a specific task.
Not just for kids
For the grown-ups, we're also offering a parents' guide, so you can make sense of the principles we're teaching in Beep Beep Yarr! and how they relate to what your child is learning at school. A lot of parents have no problems helping their children with English, maths or science homework, but as computing is so new to schools it's something that a lot of people have no experience with. We want to open up the lessons in Beep Beep Yarr! to the parents too, so you can read with your child and help them out when they get stuck – and hopefully this will be true when they bring work home from school.
Two years ago, via a successful crowdfunding campaign, we used our long experience writing, editing and publishing articles about computers to launch a newsstand magazine. You can now buy the result, Linux Voice, wherever magazines are sold.
Our motivation has always been to spread the word about how exciting computing and technology can be – we want to help as many people as possible find out how much they can achieve with computers. We even license our content so that nine months after publication it becomes free to use, share and remix – here's a link to some of our back issues.
Risks and challenges
Writing and publishing is difficult. But we’ve done this before. We’re incredibly proud that we delivered on the promises of our original crowdfunding campaign to launch Linux Voice magazine, getting the first issue onto UK shelves within 10 weeks of the campaign finishing. To do that, we needed to negotiate print, publishing and distribution agreements, write and edit the magazine, and get it out to our backers. Over two years later and we’re currently working in the 25th issue. A book is a lot like a magazine, but it's a one-off rather than an ongoing concern.
We’ve been planning some of the ideas in the book for years, and we’ve already been working with an illustrator to bring these ideas to life. We’ve also built the framework for the online interactive elements. Our plan is to get the book into your hands by the end of July, just in time for the start of the school summer holidays.
But to do that, we need your help, which is why we’re asking for your support here on Kickstarter. With your support, we know we can create something unique, that children will enjoy and that will open their imaginations.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (32 days)