Save the World with Code by Lorraine Underwood – book review

From Lorraine Underwood, care of McGraw Hill Publishing, comes this project book which promises to “engage kids with coding and making”. It includes 20 projects using a Raspberry Pi, micro:bit and/or the Circuit Playground Express – making it the first book I have seen that offers parallel experiences across three devices.

TL;DR – The book is wonderful and is appropriate for children of all ages. Find it on Amazon.

The multi-device approach is excellent as it means you can see how different devices do things in different ways – it highlights how these devices can be used differently depending on your age and experience level and also gives you a way to learn how to move between them easily.

The book is in full-colour (which is an excellent choice as the block programming diagrams are colour-coded in the various editors) and this makes the book feel vibrant and “fun”.

The content

The book opens with a good introduction in which the various boards are described and then the groups of “missions” are introduced. These are: Zombies Defense; Defend Your Home and Save the World.

In Zombie Defense, you will build:

  • Zombie Detector
  • Zombie Escape Sign
  • Light Sensor
  • Light-up Backpack
  • Light-up Attack Sword
  • Reaction Game

In Defend Your Home you will do the following projects:

  • Name Badge
  • Door Sensor
  • Sword Lock
  • Cookie Jar Protector
  • Number Lock
  • Mobile Alarm
  • Floor Mat Alarm
  • Treasure Box Alarm

In Save the World, you move on to the following:

  • Step Counter
  • Bike Indicator
  • Moisture Sensor
  • Temperature Monitor
  • Temperature Alarm
  • Window Alarm

In each of these projects (well, most of them) you get a choice of micro:bit, Circuit Playground Express or Raspberry Pi. Not all of the projects can be completed with all the devices, and the Raspberry Pi does get a slight disadvantage here due to the lack of on-board sensors.

Many of the projects (you can tell by the names, above) build on work from previous chapters, so it pays to work through the book sequentially. There are plenty of skills to learn here, many of them using sensors and many using LED strips (which are always popular).

As you might have worked out by now, you’ll need some additional components to really get the best out of the book. Fortunately, Pimoroni (who were impressed with the book) have created a collection on their site to enable you to find what you need.

The Tone

The tone of the book is “just right”. It is friendly without being “horribly chummy” and Lorraine’s personality comes through in the way that the sections are organised and written. The book is particularly aimed at children and I was impressed with the way that skills are learned and then questions are posed to make the reader really think about what they’re doing and why things work the way they do. I also like the way that most of the “Expert Level” sections of each chapter are written as challenges to the reader – this encourages creative thinking and thinking outside the box.

No book of this size and level of content would be able to stand on its own and so Lorraine has created a website to accompany it. The website isn’t quite finished yet but more content will be added as time allows (in this strange Lockdown time we’re living in!)

Conclusion

This really is a wonderful book. The progression of the “missions” is excellent – there is just enough to challenge you each time you start a new project without it being overwhelming and the instructions are clear with an incredible number of screenshots, illustrations and photographs to accompany the text. In an ideal world, I would like to have been able to use the Raspberry Pi for every project, but really you want to use the right tool for the right job. The micro:bit and the Circuit Playground Express have onboard sensors, buttons and LEDs and the Raspberry Pi just doesn’t. I would definitely start off with the two smaller boards before moving onto the Pi anyway, so it definitely doesn’t “hurt” the book all that much. The Raspberry Pi-based projects are well-spaced and so are appropriate for a more advanced reader anyway as the learning curve is steeper.

The variety of projects in the book is good and I do love the way there is an environmentally-friendly “feel” to the projects, especially during the last mission. It shows an understanding and appreciation of the challenges facing the planet, and that can only be a good thing!

Overall: Highly recommended for children and adults of all ages who want to explore a friendly and accessible book with excellent projects.

You can buy the book on Amazon around the world. In the UK it is available in Waterstones and Amazon. The price is approximately £18.99.

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