Every now and then I’m fortunate enough to find a product that is a move away from the norm; something creatively intuitive and fresh. Curly Brackets: The Hidden Code is definitely in this category. Created by Johan Wendt and his co-author Tor Moström, “Curly Brackets…” is a graphic novel, aimed at kids aged 8 to 13. It introduces the reader to the concepts of computational thinking by immersing them in a story set a futuristic digital world. In this world the ability to program and problem-solve is the key to success.
The Curly Brackets Story [no spoilers!]
The protagonist, 13 year old Curly Brackets, lives in a future where an overbearing corporation Corporatus controls everything As the story begins, Curly is poised to sit her final school exam; an exam which will determine her entire future within this world – to become a coder for Corporatus. But, as her dream is within reach, change begins to occur – changes which will alter the life of this rebellious teenager forever.
Any fan of the Neal Stephenson novel “Snow Crash” (1992) or Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (2011) will immediately see the similarities here. Action takes place in a dystopian future. A young child is burdened with the responsibility of saving herself and possibly mankind. The overbearing Corporatus corporation resembles Spiga Biotech from the hit sci-fi series “Incorporated” (2016) where, in the absence of effective government, a large multinational conglomerate has assumed the position of a de facto ruler. Parents and educators will notice shades of the Matrix series and Lord of the Rings in the story too. I’m not saying this is a bad thing by any means. Hey, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Coding in Cartoon?
The unique feature of this book is the medium through which the reader has an opportunity to learn. What Johan and Tor have done, along with illustrator Peter Bergting, is construct a distinctively different type of graphic novel – something I’ve never seen before. What’s more, it’s an attractive, accessible and hugely enjoyable story for the younger generation. In fact, it could be described as half comic, half textbook – a means of encourage computational thinking among kids: Curly is faced with a number of problems throughout the adventure, and readers are encouraged to help her solve them as they progress through the book. You become involved.
Similarly, the problem sets, found in the latter part of the book are well thought out and explained in an understandable way. Readers can jump forward and backward from story to problem set, or if they wish read the entire novel and then take some time to discover how Curly Brackets negotiated her way through various obstacles.
Books on coding for kids are available in abundance at the moment. But coding languages change and it can be difficult to keep children motivated while laboring through ‘the basics’. This book gets under the surface. The one thing which people in just about every technical and STEM-based career share is the ability to problem-solve. And great problem-solving skills come from learning computational thinking.
I do have one criticism. A number of the problems which kids are encouraged to help Curly solve are actually quite difficult. I actually had to get the pen and paper out and really spend time working on them. This may be an issue for younger kids working on their own. That said, if you do buy Curly Brackets: The Hidden Code for your classroom or family, why not encourage kids to read a chapter on their own, and work through the problems with their peers? Self-motivation and team-based activities all in one!
There are many issues facing the school systems throughout the world. We all understand this – lack of student engagement, and large class numbers being just a few. In that respect, Curly Bracket: The Hidden Code really makes sense. It’s a tool to engage – plain and simple – a unique addition to the teacher/student arsenal of problem-solving weaponry. And it will never run out of batteries!
You can purchase Curly Brackets: The Hidden Code by visiting the author’s website.