Hello there. How're you doing? It's me. This update is about the year behind us. About the process, the path and the product. And what really happens when you decide to write a book.
One year ago my life turned upside down - thanks to all of you. This project was just an idea of a different way to teach computing concepts, a bunch of pictures and a video. I lacked the skills and the vocabulary to describe what I was doing. Luckily I was also naive enough to think I could make it all happen.
You can scroll down to read more about the process of illustration, authoring, curriculum, and philosophy. And some sneak peeks to the final illustrations.
Next time I will talk more on what’s happening in Ruby’s life at the moment.
The pictures: importance of sketching
Illustration is the part where I can really see the change a year has brought. When I started with the book I had no idea how to do entire spreads and backgrounds, how to pace the pictures, how to make characters move and live. Now the book looks the way I always imagined.
Drawing a line feels so permanent. In the beginning I would draw something and feel desperate. The pictures were mediocre, nothing like I imagined in my head. But I learned to embrace the cmd+z -command, to endure the smudgy lines and wonky compositions. I figured that drawing is mechanical repetition and that the only way to get better is to make raw and ugly things at first.
And now, after a year, I understand that the messy sketches serve a purpose. They help to shape an idea. The sketches you see are from all over the year. You can see ideas evolving and being killed. And I needed to come up with a lot more ideas and kill even more, as the book ballooned from 32 pages to over 120!
For someone who comes from the web industry, where you deploy five times a day and things are designed for change, a book feels very final. The book is a representation of who I am and what I know today. Five years from now it would look totally different. I would actually love to see artists redraw some of their early books!
The words: importance of clarity
I’m asked a lot whether I first wrote the text, made the pictures or came up with the exercises. Being the sole author had the advantage of handling everything in parallel, weaving a pattern that has all three elements.
Sometimes I would come up with new exercise, draw a reference to the chapter and modify the text. The beauty of picture books is that the drawings can tell a whole other story beyond the words.
Having a professional editor was amazing. Lauren helped me come up with a friendly voice for all the characters and structure the entire story in a new way. She was the one who suggested making the book twice as long, in order to let the story breath.
She also taught me about the power of emotions. The first version of the story didn’t have a clear motive: the wind swept away Ruby’s gems and off she went for an adventure. The new version has a stronger storyline with a traveling dad who sets up Ruby on an adventure quest for gems - now there’s emotions and drama and a little bit of suspense. Many classic children’s books stories share themes and structures, the trick is to bring in your own viewpoint. I thought about stuff that made me excited as a kid: tightly rolled maps, the underwater world, the idea that my plush toys have a life of their own.
Lauren also asks all the nitty-gritty questions: where did the backpack disappear? Why do the penguins say this? How come Ruby knows that? Instead of describing, can we jump into action? She pushed me to be clear, but interesting at the same time. The amount of comments and corrections in a manuscript of a few dozen pages is in the hundreds.
The exercises: importance of structure
Curriculum was one of the biggest question mark, even when I started the project last January. CS is a young, messy field with many names for similar concepts (just look at this article on data structures). The list of themes I had outlined wasn’t conclusive.
Coming up with the topics I wanted to teach and the philosophy of how to teach them was one of the most rewarding parts of this journey. But it took a lot of talking, exploring and playtesting. And now I’m really happy with the workbook.
It was clear for me that this wasn’t a book about ‘learning to code’, but about key computing concepts and practices in general. And that the activities should happen away from the computer, center around play and be as non didactic as possible.
I read a lot (and I’ve listed some of the resources below) and talked with a lot of people, from academia and industry to early childhood pedagogy. And everyone encouraged me not to worry too much about making the curriculum exhaustive, but to focus on things that the kids found fun. Kids between 5-7 are like sponges. They learn so much about the world and the things they learn stick with them.
So pretty early on I realized that the book was to be semi-educational, very much from my point of view, reflecting the way I see computing. Hopefully the activities will inspire people to go off and do their versions.
(I’ve noticed I work through problems best by structuring them into talks: a lot of the thinking process for the curriculum is also present in Principles of Play talk I gave this February)
So what happens next?
This whole thing started as a one-off Kickstarter project. But the support from all of you has made it possible for Hello Ruby to become so much more. Having an audience of 10 000 people while you're working on your first book - that’s amazing and great, but also scary.
During the last year I’ve thought a lot about what I want to do with Hello Ruby. There are so many directions: I have a few new book ideas in my head, I have strong concepts about a community for sharing and remixing the content from the books, I want to dip my toes in applications and make a Crawl Inside A Computer exhibition with tactile and playful learning principles.
The book is going to be released in the fall and I’m anxiously waiting for it to land on the hands of thousands of kids. Currently I’m working on a bunch of web activities around the principles of play, which I also want to eventually share with you.
This time the Linked List is more of a Best of -summary. I’ve listed resources and people who’ve helped me grow in the past year.
- I love Kyle Websters brushes and couldn’t make my drawings without them.
- Pinterest continues to be my number one illustration resource: I follow great illustrators and illustration boards. (One trick I have if I feel stuck is to just copy a favorite illustration and try to figure out how and why it works. Always gets me unstuck!)
- Roald Dahl’s Boy was one of my favorite books about being a child, and consecutively a children’s books writer.
- Joan Ganz Cooney Center, Lego Foundation and Design for Kids ended up being the best sources of information on early childhood pedagogy.
- I read a lot of children’s books and follow the authors blogs. I’ve gotten invaluable advice from the blogs of Peter Brown, Gus Gordon, Oliver Jeffers and Dallas Clayton.
- From the computing world I still love Mindstorms, Dream Machine, Twenty Things to Do with a Computer and Ray & Charles Eames' work on computers.
- Reading through some existing computing curriculums has been hugely beneficial. Since last spring there’s been tons of new ones: Code.org came out with K5 curriculum, Google has Made with Code and Barefoot Computing has amazing classroom resources also for the smallest kids.
- From non-computers: four years on Curriculum of Toys by Saul Griffith still inspires me everyday. More recently I’ve started to study Björks Biophilia work and read about Reggio Emilia pedagogy.
Philosopy & principles