Sibert Showdown, Middle Grade STEM-Style


Hello There! Let me first say, yes it IS Thursday. (with this year you never know, right?)

The STEM Tuesday Team has staged a Thursday takeover of the Mixed Up Files blog so that we can add one more day to the week to celebrate STEM/STEAM books!!

Today we are offering a  FUN activity with STEM/STEAM books to do in your classroom:






Every year the American Library Association honors the best informational books of the year at their annual conference at the end of January.  The award for that is the Robert F. Sibert Award. Typically, one book receives that award and several honor books are chosen as well.

What is the Robert F. Sibert Award?   “The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal is awarded annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in the United States in English during the preceding year. The award is named in honor of Robert F. Sibert, the long-time President of Bound to Stay Bound Books, Inc. of Jacksonville, Illinois. ALSC administers the award.”– quoted directly from the ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children) website

What is an informational book?  “Information books are defined as those written and illustrated to present, organize, and interpret documentable, factual material for children. There are no limitations as to the character of the book, although traditional literature (e.g., folktales) is not eligible. Poetry is not eligible except as a format or vehicle to convey information.”  – quoted directly from the ALSC website



Get your class to decide! Which book do they think should win the Sibert Award? Which one(s) should be awarded a Sibert Honor?

Award-winning author Melissa Stewart started her Sibert Smackdown four years ago. What a BRILLIANT idea! Many teachers and librarians have been using it every year since. Here is a post about  Melissa’s  Sibert Smackdown

With a very enthusiastic nod to Melissa, we here at STEM Tuesday invite you to put a slightly different slant on her version. We encourage you to use middle grade STEM/STEAM books in your Sibert Showdown. This would be great to do for older classes, perhaps 4th graders and up. We realize that reading an entire middle grade book might seem daunting but don’t worry, we offer a few suggestions.



  Pick a book (see the book list below) 

  Decide how your class will read the books. Here are a few ideas: 

  1. Book Talk in Teams –Divide them up into teams of 2-3 students. Have each student read the introduction, table of contents and one to two chapters. They can present the book to the rest of the class in a 5-10 minute Book Talk.
  2. Book Tasting– Every student reads just the first chapter of the book and then you discuss in class.
  3. Individual Book Talk– each student picks a different book and skims it, reading the first chapter, a middle one, and maybe the last one.
  4. Book Talk by Class– Split your class up into different groups. Each group reads the back cover blurb and one chapter. (don’t forget the back matter). Then have a discussion and compare.
  5. Read the whole book Book Talk– Of course, this is the best, let students pick from the list below which book they’d like to read. Have them read it all the way through (most of them aren’t too long). Then they give a presentation about why it should be chosen (or not chosen) for the award.
  6. Persuasive Writing Paragraph– Do any of the above, but instead of a presentation, have the students write a persuasive paragraph explaining why this book should or shouldn’t be included in consideration for the Sibert Award.



So that they are all working from the same guidelines, have the students ask themselves these questions as they go through the book:

  • Is the book interesting or FUN to read?
  • Does this book have a lot of information in it– enough to give a reader a very good idea of the topic?
  • Is the book easy to understand? (does the author do a good job of explaining things?)
  • Is the information presented in an organized way? (does it make sense as you are reading it?)
  • Is there a glossary or index in the book to help you understand the terms and find the topics?
  • Is there an author’s note or a way to learn more about the topic?

Their presentations, discussions, or writing should include their answers to these questions.

Sound fun? It IS!

***  And just a note, you could do this activity ANY time of the year, not just during the Sibert Award consideration time. There is always a time to have fun with STEM/STEAM Books!  😊***



Our STEM Tuesday Team came up with a list of some 2020 STEM/STEAM books we think are awesome and will get you started. But feel free to add to our list! Post your favorites in the comments below  OR you can always invite your students to come up with their own classroom list.



Condor Comeback (Scientists in the Field Series) by Sy Montgomery (Author), Tianne Strombeck (Photographer),   HMH Kids





All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat, Candlewick Press






Changing the Equation: 50+ US Black Women in STEM by Tonya Bolden, Abrams BFYR






Earth Day and the Environmental Movement: Standing Up for Earth by Christy Peterson, 21st Century Books




Beastly Bionics: Rad Robots, Brilliant Biomimicry, and Incredible Inventions Inspired by Nature by Jennifer Swanson, National Geographic Kids





Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani illustrated  by Maris Wicks, First Second Books






Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem by Kate Messner, Millbrook Press



Who Gives a Poop?: Surprising Science from One End to the Other by Heather Montgomery, Bloomsbury Kids





Big Ideas That Changed The World: Machines That Think by Don Brown, Amulet Books





Machines in Motion: The Amazing History of Transportation by Tom Jackson, Bloomsbury Children’s Books




Where Have All The Bees Gone? Pollinators in Crisis By Rebecca Hirsch, 21-First Century Books





This is our list. What is YOURS? Add to this list below. And if you use this activity in your classroom, we’d love to hear about it. Thanks for celebrating STEM/STEAM books with us!

Happy Holidays from the entire STEM Tuesday TEAM!

WNDMG Wednesday – Celebrating Heartdrum Launch: Cynthia Leitich Smith

We Need Diverse MG
We Need Diverse MG

Artwork by Aixa Perez-Prado

Heartdrum Imprint Launch

We Need Diverse Middle Grade celebrates the new Heartdrum imprint launch this week, in anticipation of its January 2021 launch. With Heartdrum (HarperCollins) in the picture, the future is bright for Native creators in the publishing industry.  What’s more, we’re going to have even more opportunities to fill middle-grade bookshelves with a rich tapestry of diverse stories and characters.

The Native-focused initiative launch list includes: Ancestor Approved, an anthology of stories that take place at an intertribal powwow, edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith, and The Sea in Winter by Christine Day (Upper Skagit). Heartdrum logo


Leading the imprint are award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek), and Rosemary Brosnan, Vice President, Editorial Director, HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Cynthia Leitich Smith

Cynthia Leitich Smith, NYT Bestselling Author, Heartdrum Author-Curator

We Need Diverse Middle Grade was delighted to have a chance to chat with Cynthia Leitich Smith recently, about collaboration and all things Heartdrum.

Heartdrum Origin Story

MUF: First of all, congratulations on launching the Heartdrum imprint. We at MUF are very excited for you and for the potential of your titles to really open some doors and windows for middle-grade readers. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got attached to this imprint and what your role will be?

CLS: Thank you for your enthusiasm and support! I’m honored.

Here’s the scoop: Brilliant author, WNDB leader, and Champion for A Better World Ellen Oh first conceived of the idea of a Native children’s-YA book imprint and pitched it to me over a bountiful, laughter-filled hotel breakfast at a librarian conference. I grinned and shook my head, flattered. We were talking about an ambitious project. Was I the right person? Was I famous or fancy enough? I thought it over for several months.

A Game-Changing Moment

Of course, the fact that only 1% of children’s books published are Native titles means there is an overwhelming need for Native and First Nations voices. But equally importantly, the Indigenous literary creative community is experiencing a boom in growth, in new and rising talent and enthusiasm.

As a writing teacher and mentor, I knew our radiant intertribal community was made up of Native authors and illustrators who could absolutely deliver excellent, innovative, authentic, and engaging books to the most important audience—young readers. Beyond that, I love teaching writing and mentoring writers, especially new voices.

What’s more, I knew the perfect editor to partner with for the mission! Rosemary Brosnan at HarperChildren’s was my original children’s editor, and she has been a steadfast industry advocate for equitable and inclusive literature for decades. Rosemary is an incredibly skilled, wise, and generous industry professional who commits deeply to her authors and genuinely prioritizes young readers. I trusted her to make the dream a reality. And she did. So, Heartdrum at HarperChildren’s is now a Native-focused imprint in partnership with We Need Diverse Books.

Rosemary Brosnan

Rosemary Brosnan: VP, Editorial Director, HarperCollins Childrens Photo Credit: Kate Morgan Jackson

Wow, it’s been quite the journey already! We’ve been blessed with so many incredible submissions and, consequently, have signed up three times more projects this year than originally expected. This is a game-changing moment in Native kidlit! I can hardly wait to share the final books with kids.

Ancestor Approved

MUF: Among the first titles Heartdrum releases will be your anthology ANCESTOR APPROVED – can you tell us a little bit about the collaborative process for this book?

CLS: ANCESTOR APPROVED: INTERTRIBAL STORIES FOR KIDS is a middle grade anthology featuring sixteen writers and illustrator Nicole Niedhardt. The book is centered on its setting—a two-day intertribal powwow in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

All of the stories and poems spring from that event, and the cover art reflects Kim Rogers’s protagonist. We’re talking about a collection wherein the hero of one story might appear as a secondary character in another one. Each can stand alone, but in reading them all, kids will glean added layers of resonance. The contributors include well-established Native and First Nations authors like Joseph Bruchac and David A. Robertson, rising stars like Christine Day, Eric Gansworth, and Traci Sorell as well as new voices like Andrea L. Rogers and Brian Young.

Ancestor Approved Heartdrum

Collaborating Ancestor

Together, they collaborated on the worldbuilding, which took place via an online message board, emails, text messages, phone calls and in-person meetings. Traci Sorell graciously offered to take point on putting together an initial guide to the setting, and I began charting the existing links and opportunities for more. Questions flew! “What’s the weather like?” “Do we have video?” “Does the vendor hotel serve breakfast?” [Yes, I literally called a Holiday Inn to research their early-morning menu!] Everyone was good-humored about smoothing out any inconsistencies from story to story and even embraced revising major plot points when needed. They were all extremely patient with editorial follow-up questions, expansion and revision requests.

I’m so pleased with how the anthology turned out. Teachers, librarians, and tribal language advocates will be thrilled with the back matter. We have a Native-authored educator guide in the works. With any collection, the first and last contributions are especially high impact. Kim Rogers’s and Carole Lindstorm’s lovely, evocative poems brilliantly bookend the short stories, and their deeply felt writing really elevates the entire book.

MUF: Will you carry this approach forward as you publish other Heartdrum titles?

CLS: We wholeheartedly embrace a community and collaborative approach. That said, I don’t expect that we’ll publish several books with quite so many voices and visions.

Meanwhile, we’re really listening and respecting everyone involved in each title. As a personal example, when I saw Muscogee Creek Floyd Cooper’s magical cover art for my own upcoming middle-grade novel, SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA, I immediately made tweaks in my text to accommodate his vision. We deeply value our Indigenous illustrators’ efforts—whether their focus is a picture book, cover art or interior black-and-whites.

Need for Native-Focused Imprint

MUF: Stealing this question from your terrific interview with Roger Sutton of the Horn Book—Why, in 2020, do you think we need an imprint devoted to Native American books?

CLS: First, it should be noted that small Native-owned and tribal presses have been publishing high-quality, authentic Native and First Nations books for a long time. We must continue to prioritize and support them.

With mainstream trade publishing, it’s been more of a struggle. Misconceptions and biases in the overarching society seeped into the industry. For Native representation on the page, that has meant not only erasure but also effectively promoting the myth of extinction, the lie of Manifest Destiny, and the perpetuation of harmful Hollywood stereotypes.

Of late, because of early and ever-more-numerous activists, the WNDB movement, heightening inclusion of Indigenous voices, and a rising generation of publishing pros determined to do better, we’re experiencing a meaningful, positive change. As an industry, we all still have a lot of work to do, and I’m pleased that Heartdrum is a part of that effort.

Sending a Message

CLS: Our very existence as an imprint sends a message to our creative and professional colleagues that here will be fewer default barriers to Native narratives, that there is a substantial big-five-publisher commitment, that there is a widespread children’s-literature community commitment. Opportunities and ripple effects are following suit. More literary agents are signing Native writers. Other publishers are hitting PAUSE to consider the Indigenous representation (or lack thereof) on their own lists. Booksellers, teachers, and librarians are seeking out related resources and advocating for their peers to join them in raising up authentic, respectful Native narratives that are also outstanding, page-turning reads.

Everyone living within what’s currently called “the North American market” is on Native land. We have a past, present, and future that is fascinating, reflecting a full range of humanity. Our kids deserve to cheer for heroes who share their tribal identity/ies, and when it comes to books with Native-content, kids in general deserve better than most of what’s been published before, the overwhelming majority of it by non-Indian creators.

It’s past time to move the conversation forward–to focus on books that reflect Native sensibilities and humor, that reflect our own visual and literary styles and innovations.

The existence of a Native imprint is a statement. It says we belong in the world of books.

((Want to read more about Cynthia Leitich Smith? Read MUF contributor Mike Hayes’s interview here.)


MUF: Will the authors and stories be all #ownvoices Native Americans?

CLS: The authors, illustrators, audio-book voice actors, and the educators writing our teacher guides…! I’m not saying “never” to non-Native collaborators. My newly repackaged book JINGLE DANCER features non-Native illustrators, who are POC. (Cornelius Van Wright is Black, and Ying-Hwa Hu is Taiwanese American). At twenty years old, the book is considered a “modern classic.” Neil and Ying-Hwa’s loving visual depiction of Jenna Wolfe reflects who she is to Native kids. But that book is an exception, not an expectation for books on our list.

Addressing Troublesome Classics

MUF: What’s your feeling about the “troublesome classics” like Little House on the Prairie – what do we do with them in the 21st century?

CLS: It’s timely that you ask that. I mentioned SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA, which is an Indigenous retelling of J.M. Barrie’s PETER PAN, centered on the girls in the story.

The premise is that Wendy Darling (who’s white and British) and Lily Roberts (who’s Muscogee Creek) are stepsisters living in suburban Tulsa. As the story begins, they’re navigating a time of uncertainty and transition in their family. One night, Peter and a fairy named Belle appear at the girls’ little brother Michael’s window. Hijinks and adventure follow suit.

Certainly, there are profoundly problematic aspects of the original PETER PAN. Especially with regard to the so-called Indian characters—or rather, caricatures—in the story, though the gender representation and disability representation are disturbing, too.

sisters of the neversea

That’s where the conversation of books can come in. Reinvention that talks back. Reinvention that makes us think. Still, SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA is by no means a treatise debating with Barrie’s classic. The heart of my story is about the love between the girls, about the bonds of blended families. It’s filled with humorous moments as well as high-stakes action and wonder.

All of which is to say, I think we authors of today can address many of those “troublesome classics,” as you put it. We can actively engage. And if the classic’s “troublesome” aspects are harmful to child readers, we update our choices and collections accordingly.

What Does and Doesn’t Need Updating

MUF: Following up on that question, how do new editions of your own work reflect changes in how Native kidlit is written and framed?

CLS: For context, my first three books—JINGLE DANCER, INDIAN SHOES and RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME have been updated and are being published in paperback editions. Due to teacher demand, the updated version INDIAN SHOES is already available as an ebook.

As for how Native kidlit is written and framed…. First, it’s important not to overgeneralize. “Native” is an umbrella word referring to more than 500 tribal nations within U.S. borders alone—all with their own languages, histories, cultures, and literary traditions. In writing, a lot of us take a hybrid approach—combining our literary traditions with mainstream influences. Intersections abound. Individual artistic discretion and innovation are welcome. [The best way to familiarize yourself is to read extensively.] So, while we’re not without discernable patterns and commonalities, I’m speaking for myself.

Here are a few of my own considerations and how I addressed them:

With JINGLE DANCER, the primary update is the author’s note. I tweaked the language used to reference Jenna’s heritage in keeping with evolving tribal preferences. I made the text a bit more timeless. I also included a more comprehensive description of various regalia choices, among other tweaks, as the jingle dance has grown in intertribal popularity over time.

What I didn’t do is probably more significant. There has always been this pressure to provide an overly heavy social studies overlay or punctuation mark on Native fiction. It’s due to what sometimes is called “the white gaze”—which includes the expectation that fiction about us is not also for us and, rather, its only role is to educate non-Natives.

Instead, in my author’s note, I offered an appropriate, illuminating amount of information to supplement a fictional story and provided teachers with sufficient springboards for discussion without crossing that line.

The text of INDIAN SHOES stayed mostly the same, though—as in all of my books—I specifically made it clear in the author’s note that my readers included both Native and non-Native kids and spoke more directly to them than in the past.

Indian Shoes 2020

Urban Cover Art

The most significant change was in the cover art by Cherokee Sharon Irla and interior illustrations by Cherokee MaryBeth Timothy. The cover is more unabashedly urban, which is important in one of the very few books reflecting the reality that most Native people live in cities. The interior illustrations are also more inclusive of Native girls and women, who’re especially historically underrepresented in children’s literature. Although I’m Muscogee Creek by tribal affiliation, I do have Cherokee ancestors and very close family members who’re citizens of the Cherokee Nation (Oklahoma). Ray and Grampa Halfmoon are Cherokee-Seminoles and that choice was in a way a love note to those close relations. Given that, having Cherokee artists join the creative team made perfect sense.

The update of RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME was the most extensive. It features a lovely new cover by illustrator Natasha Donovan, whose artistic sensitively conveys the emotional nuances of the protagonist’s healing journey and new beginnings.

Beyond that, the text shows a shift among younger tribal members to “Native,” though many still say “Indian” and certainly most of their elders do. I also took a more direct approach to communicating a few cross-cultural interactions, including those around a Black Seminole character and Ojibwe characters. While these elements were already present in the original text, I added brushstrokes to further contextualize racial and socio-economic diversity within Indian Country. We are by no means a monolith, and that goes beyond tribal affiliation to include a myriad of additional identity elements.

Contemporary Fiction

MUF: Will you be publishing books across all genres: contemporary, fantasy, sci-fi, etc.? And will you also publish nonfiction? Or are you looking for a more specific niche?

CLS: At Heartdrum, our focus is on realistic and speculative contemporary fiction centered on young Native heroes. We’re also publishing a limited amount of recent (20th century) historicals and nonfiction.

My feeling is that all age market, genre, and format categories of quality Native and First Nations books for kids are desperately needed. I’m busy supporting manuscript development in other categories as a mentor and writing teacher. I’m actively promoting them on my platform.

Meanwhile, for me, nurturing heartfelt kid-to-kid connections on the page and beyond is a heightened priority. No matter how compelling a, say, nonfiction narrative about a landmark historical event may be, the book about it will struggle to connect with Native young readers if they don’t believe that people like them belong in the world of children’s literature. What’s more, it will struggle to connect with non-Native young readers, if they don’t recognize, respect and relate to our humanity.

Writing in a Pandemic

MUF: If you’re comfortable answering this, and I understand if it feels it’s too raw or personal, please feel free to disregard this question. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your creative life?

CLS: I’m blessed to be able to do my work from home. The main logistical challenges have been space and time. I normally travel a lot, meet friends in town for breakfast tacos, and run to the grocery store two or three times a week. Not right now. I live in a small condo, and my bookshelf has been largely converted to a stocked-up pantry. Review copies that I might otherwise be donating to, say, the neighborhood high school or public library books ale, are really piling up. They’re stacked on chairs and hiding out under the beds.

Meanwhile, my schedule is cheerfully bursting with online events and meetings in preparation for them. I’m also now sharing my office space with someone doing much of the same, which means a lot of more migrating between upstairs and down. But I dearly love and believe in what I do, and so far, all the bowling balls I’m juggling have stayed mostly airborne.

I miss spending time with everyone in person, but one blessing is spending quality time in Austin when the weather is at its most pleasant. For decades, my biggest author travel months (not counting VCFA) have been March to May and mid-September through November. That’s also when the air cools, the flowers bloom, and golden leaves spin through the air.

My long-haired Chihuahua Gnocchi, who is always living her best life, is reveling in long walks and day-to-day cuddles.

The main creative challenge is new writing scenes. I can revise anything anywhere anytime. But fresh scenes require uninterrupted focus and clarity that is oh-so rare and precious right now. I currently have two novels under contract, a YA companion to HEARTS UNBROKEN for Candlewick and an ambitious middle grade for Heartdrum that is requiring a lot of reflection in terms of its worldbuilding and, more personally, in gathering courage.

The one exception to that creative struggle is in the graphic-format books I’m writing with Kekla Magoon—THE BLUE STARS series, being illustrated by Molly Murakami for Candlewick. No doubt due to the utter magical brilliance of Kekla and our upbeat and playful collaborative approach, writing those scripts feels like it comes easier. And I know “easier” is the wrong word, but with the two of us writing, we’re somehow able to transfer energy back and forth and build on it together. Joining forces amps up our literary superpowers.

All that said, working on Heartdrum has been like a beacon of hope and joy. For me, and I’m hearing the same from our imprint authors and illustrators, from our Native kidlit family members more broadly, and from our many dear friends and committed supporters in the conversation of children’s books.

Indeed, Heartdrum is a source of hope and a reason to celebrate. It’s a healing influence in the industry, a tribute to Indigenous Nations and peoples, a signal of long overdue respect to Native literary and visual artists, and a transformative gift to children. And we’ve only just begun!

MUF: Thanks again so much – and we look forward to hearing more from Heartdrum!


About Cynthia Leitich Smith 

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the 2021 NSK Neustadt Laureate and a New York Times bestselling author of books for young readers, including HEARTS UNBROKEN, which won the American Indian Library Association’s Youth Literature Award. She is also the author-curator of Heartdrum, a Native-focused imprint at HarperCollins Children’s Books, and serves as the Katherine Paterson Inaugural Endowed Chair on the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Cynthia is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and lives in Austin, Texas.

Twitter: @CynLeitichSmith

Instagram: @cynthialeitichsmith

You Tube: Cynthia Leitich Smith

STEM Tuesday — Coding– In the Classroom

This month we’re focusing on coding. On our booklist, coding includes how to program computers, careers as a coder/programmer, and cryptography or secret codes.

This week is Computer Science Education Week, so it’s a great time to explore ways to incorporate coding ideas into lesson plans, scouting activities, and home learning. (Plus, it’s really fun.)

I tried to read the books like a codes and coding novice. This was a bit of a challenge. Prior to writing children’s books, I spent 15 years programming embedded computers (the microchips that go inside things like phones), often working with elements of cryptography.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgCoding Games in Scratch
by Jon Woodcock (2019)
You don’t approach this like a typical book. Rather, you work your way through it, alternating between reading and coding. It’s very easy to follow, providing a great introduction to MIT’s fabulous free coding system, Scratch. This book doesn’t just cover coding, though. It includes ideas behind game design like themes, difficulty, and playability.

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Video Game Coding
by Janet Slingerland (2019)
The title of this book may be a little misleading. It doesn’t teach readers how to code video games. Its purpose is to introduce readers to careers in video game coding. It looks at how many people work on a game, what kind of code they use, and a what the general process is.


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Can You Crack the Code?: A Fascinating History of Ciphers and Cryptography
by Ella Schwartz, illustrated by Lily Williams (2019)
I love this book. It follows the history of secret codes, from Julius Caesar to modern day internet encryption. I found the explanations easy to understand, and there are lots of examples to put your understanding to the test.


As always, I have way more ideas on this subject than I have time and space to provide them. I’m going to restrain myself and give you a few things to explore and consider here.

For additional resources and ideas, you can check out the coding page on my website ( and my STEM for Kids Pinterest board (

Hour of Code

If you’ve never heard of Hour of Code or haven’t taken a closer look, I encourage you to do so. and have resources for students, educators, and more.

Hour of Code activities are generally designed for beginner coders. They cover a variety of coding languages and platforms.

The activities are searchable by many different variables: grade, time to complete, topics (including social studies and language arts), and available technology.

There are even activities that require no computers or other devices, just filter on “No computers or devices”.

If you want to host an Hour of Code event, you can find help to do so here:

Explore Scratch

Many of the books on this month’s list use Scratch. There are several reasons for this.

Scratch is free language, provided and managed by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). If you need to work offline, you can download a Scratch program. But if you have a reliable internet connection, you can work solely online – no program download needed.

Scratch is a block-coding language. Coders choose blocks of code they customize to create a program. The blocks are designed to fit together like puzzle pieces. This takes away the syntax errors that programmers of text-based languages run into.

It’s designed as a sharing platform, so Scratch coders can learn from and be inspired by other coders. They can also easily share their coded creations with other Scratch users.

Many of the Scratch resources online encourage users to explore Scratch in a freeform manner. This can be rather intimidating for some new coders. Following the projects in one of this month’s books introduces users to Scratch. Once they get comfortable with Scratch, they are more likely to explore new ways of using the platform.

Like Hour of Code, Scratch has project ideas that focus on different areas like art, music, and stories:

Escape Room Challenge

As the current state of things has moved much of our lives online, virtual Escape Rooms have become very popular. There are many escape rooms out there to try. But how about challenging young readers and coders to create their own?

Designing an escape room can put into use computer coding ideas, game design elements, development processes, and cryptography skills. The experience will give young developers a taste of life as a video game designer/coder.

There at least 2 free platforms that could be used to develop an escape room – Google Forms and Scratch. Here are helpful resources for these.
Google Form:

Developers will follow the basic process described on page 29 of Video Game Coding. They can use the secret codes described in Can You Crack the Code? and consider the game elements discussed in Chapter 1 of Coding Games in Scratch.


Plan out the stages of the escape room, including the puzzles and/or challenges players will face. This is the pre-production or design stage of video game coding. The platform will determine the level of design required.

The first decision is what theme to use. The escape room could be based on a favorite book, character, or fictional world – like Harry Potter, Pete the Cat, or Star Wars. This could also be an opportunity to create new characters, stories, and worlds.

How many levels will there be? What are the challenges players will face? Make sure each challenge makes sense to get the player from one level to the next.

This is a creative process that mirrors fictional story writing. Characters need to be developed and worlds built. The progression through the levels is the plot. Challenges should work with the chosen world, character(s), and plot.

How are players working through the escape room – individually or in teams? Does that change what the challenges look like?

If coding in Scratch, are players represented on the screen? If so, what do they look like and what are they able to do?


Once the overall story and challenges are planned out, it’s time to move on to the production stage. This is where designers create the art, puzzles, and code needed to turn the escape room into reality.

In Coding Games in Scratch, readers learn to code a little then test a little. Build a part of the game, then try it out to make sure it works correctly. This is a great way to develop a game or program. It helps identify where problems are by keeping the testing area small. It also helps ensure programmers don’t incorrectly use a coding element throughout an entire program.


Once the initial escape room is put together, it’s time to move on to the post-production phase.

The escape room needs to be tested. Each path through needs to be checked for errors. This is often one of the most tedious portions of coding and game development. Once the designers have done their testing, it’s time to get a beta tester.

Beta testers are new to the game. Can they understand how to start and how to progress through the challenges? If not, the designers may need to add additional instructions or learning steps.

Beta testers may move through the escape room in a way the designers didn’t anticipate. This can highlight other errors or omissions that need to be corrected.

Each time a designer makes a change, they’ll need to test out everything to make sure they’ve solved the problem without introducing any new ones.


Once designers are confident their escape room is working the way they want, it’s time to release it to a broader audience. Invite classmates, friends, and family to try out them out.

This would be an excellent time to have a celebration. Developing something like this is a lot more work than people realize. Finishing is a huge accomplishment.

Explore More

I hope this has given you some ideas for exploring coding. There are so many more out there. I hope you take the time to explore and code.

Janet Slingerland in LondonJanet Slingerland has written more than 20 books for children, including several about coding. To find out more about Janet and her books, check out her website – – or visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.