Paths & Portals: Secret Coders, Book 2

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Paths & Portals: Secret Coders, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Programs and plot get more complex in clever installment.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Encourages readers to learn how to code, providing simple exercises in programming.

Positive Messages

Kids of different races can work together to solve a shared problem. Making mistakes is part of learning, and perseverance is usually rewarded with success.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Hopper, Eni, and Josh learn to work together as a team as they program the turtle robots. They bravely back each other up in their fight against the bullying rugby players.

Violence & Scariness

The Secret Coders get into a physical altercation with members of the rugby team. Punches are thrown, but no one gets seriously hurt.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Paths & Portals is the second volume in the series begun in Secret Coders and does not stand on its own. Gene Yang (Boxers & Saints, American Born Chinese) has written a fantasy graphic novel that teaches coding skills to elementary and middle schoolers. In this installment, the main character, 12-year-old Hopper, gains confidence at her new school as she develops her friendship with fellow coders Josh and Eni. The Secret Coders get into one physical fight with some menacing rugby players, but no one's seriously hurt. This is a fine choice for families looking for books with diverse characters, as Hopper's mother is Asian-American and Hopper's new best friend, Eni, appears to be African-American.

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What's the story?

In PATHS & PORTALS, Hopper, Eni, and Josh discover a secret underground classroom beneath their middle school, Stately Academy, thanks to their encounter with a mysterious and inexplicably angry janitor. To avoid being expelled, they have to teach a turtle-shaped robot to move in a designated pattern. But once they solve that riddle, the Secret Coders must face off against Principal Dean and the menacing members of the rugby team, who have taken a sudden interest in their extracurricular activities.

Is it any good?

Learning to code can be a daunting task, but this clever graphic novel makes it look, if not simple, at least understandable. Paths & Portals gives author Gene Luen Yang the opportunity to develop the characters a bit and show how learning to code can be useful. Mike Holmes' artwork is clear and expressive, suitable for action scenes and more contemplative moments.

As the second book in a series, Paths & Portals sometimes feels stuck in one place, but there's enough new material here to propel eager readers to the final volume.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether Paths & Portals makes it easy to learn simple programming. Are comics and graphic novels a good way to present educational material?

  • How is violence used in Paths & Portals? Why do you think the rugby players are antagonistic toward the Secret Coders?

  • Is it important to learn how to code at an early age? What kinds of jobs might experience in coding lead to?

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