Paths and Portals
The Secret Coders, Book #2
By Gene Luan Han and Mike Holmes
Warning: This book does not stand on its own. It requires you to have read the previous book The Secret Coders, and is not a self-contained entity. That being said The Secret Coders: Paths and Portals carries on from where the previous book left off, and leaves you hanging (not the best feeling in the world). A tribute to LOGO, the computer programming language that is making a resurgence in early programming courses, The Secret Coders: Paths and Portals expands on the program command techniques learned in the earlier works, and adds to them. All and all, this is a good start for any young programmer, to sink their teeth into. Functioning on logic and problem solving, using coding, is a healthy way to introduce the little ones to critical thinking skills and the applications of which to use them.
Writing on computer programming in a fun and entertaining way – especially those books targeted at younger readers – is a rare thing these days. The Secret Coders series seeks to fill that gap, through the adventures of the three high school protagonists. The writing is light, and pensive, explaining the reasoning and logic in the manipulation of the robot turtles (how cool is that?). In the programming down time, the book switches gears and provides an entertaining look at the high school shenanigans, and turmoil that accompany life at the Stately Academy. While not poorly written, the science seems to come before the art, so to speak, causing a real lack of character development; not that this is a great loss in a mostly academic work. It does try to pull out the fun in programming, though, and teaches the art of paths, such as snowflake designs and other patterns, so it must be pointed out that there is some merit to the writing, entertainment-wise. The plot moves quickly, except during the programming moments in which the graphic novel slows down, such that comprehension can be developed. Quick paced and with twists and turns around any “portal,” The Secret Coders: Paths and Portals lives up to its namesake.
Artistically speaking, however, this is a throwback to the halcyon days of ‘50’s retro art. The characters look like they are right out of a Hanna Barbara cartoon, and this makes the pensive subject matter a little more easy to bear. Line weight is even, and there are minimal distractions in the artwork. What is needed is placed there meticulously. It’s almost a joy seeing this art form come back to the fore and The Secret Coders: Paths and Portals delivers it in spades. A simplified style, dynamic and poignant, eases the readers back into the story with minimal fuss, or distraction. Hazed over panel shots are new to this installment, however, and its purpose, to those not used to graphic novels, might take time to take in. This may be expanded on in the next book but for now, it remains a child’s enigma.
For the eager, young computer programmer in the family, or those wistful of a bygone age of programming, The Secret Coders: Paths and Portals is a good introduction to the art of logically working out computer programming. Skills from this book can be applied across languages, so LOGO isn’t the be all and end all of the story. Hopefully, in future installments, the stories will be more self-contained. This might prove difficult, as the nature of programing builds upon itself. With this being only the second book in the series, the opportunity to grab the two is not without reason. If you have a young enquiring mind about the technology in your house, look no further than the Secret Coders series.