On 23 January, Linda Liukas launched a Kickstarter project to raise $10k to publish a children’s book called Hello Ruby, teaching kids the fundamentals of programming. Four days later, and with 25 days of the campaign to go, she has raised $185k from more than 4,300 backers.
“I thought this would be a 20–year project, and hopefully it still can be, but now I get to do a lot more stuff than I expected early on,” Liukas said on Monday.
The book will tell the story of Ruby – “a small girl with a huge imagination” — who meets penguins, a snow leopard and green robots (among other characters) on her adventures. It’s actually two books: an illustrated storybook with Ruby’s tale, and an activity book that teaches early programming skills. Both are aimed at 4–7 year–olds.
The project has been three years in the making: a time in which Liukas co–founded the Rails Girls non–profit volunteer community aiming to make building technology more approachable for women, and also worked at Codecademy, the online education company.
“I started drawing the pictures about three years ago, when I was working with more serious programming languages like Ruby. Whenever I ran into a problem that I didn’t understand, I’d think ‘how would Ruby explain this?’,” said Liukas.
“When I came back to Helsinki after Codecademy, I really thought this would be a little art project: a side thing I would do for my friends, or the Ruby community. I felt tremendous warmth and love for the idea from the Ruby community, but never would have guessed it could be this popular.” Linda Liukas started working on Hello Ruby three years ago. Linda Liukas started working on Hello Ruby three years ago.
The Kickstarter listing sets out the principles behind Hello Ruby, including how Liukas feels about programming’s role within the education system, and its status as a creative discipline, even if some parents and teachers still see it in purely technological terms: “Code is the 21st century literacy and the need for people to speak the ABC of Programming is imminent. Our world is increasingly run by software and we need more diversity in the people who are building it.
More importantly, writing software is about expression, creativity- and practical application. Our kids should learn to bend, join, break and combine code in a way it wasn’t designed to. Just as they would with crayons and paper or wood and tools. I believe there’s plenty to learn in programming logic and culture before showing children a single screen.” Liukas said that there is a robust debate happening in Finland about how coding should be part of the national curriculum, just as there has been in the UK.
The heroine of Liukas’ book is a girl, but it’s not a book for girls. Or rather, it’s for children of both genders, at an age when girls and boys alike may be playing with tablets and games, and perhaps even encountering programming through languages like Scratch or coding–for–kids apps like Hopscotch and Kodable.
“It’s important that we have a girl protagonist in my storybook, but it’s definitely not a girl/boy thing. Technology is not just for girls or boys,” she said.
With Hello Ruby having already raised more than 1,800% of its initial target, Luikas has already published some “stretch goals” on Kickstarter: if the project reaches $250k, she’ll write a downloadable parent’s guide for the workbook, and if it reaches $500k, she’ll work on turning Hello Ruby into a mobile app. —© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014