A generation of children in the 1980s learned about programming from a series of computing books by Usborne Publishing. Now the company has rereleased them in free digital versions.
Originally aimed at children learning to program their ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro and Commodore 64 computers, the series included books like Practical Things To Do With a Microcomputer, Machine Code for Beginners, and Write Your Own Adventure Programs.
Fifteen of the books have been digitised and made available for download as PDF files from Usborne’s website, with visitors encouraged to download them for personal or educational use, although the books cannot be hosted elsewhere.
The digital books are likely to provoke pangs of nostalgia for anyone who grew up with them, although for modern-day children more used to playing games on a console or tablet than writing them on a computer, they are more likely to be historical curiosities.
For those in any doubt, Usborne also cautions: “The programs will not run on modern computers.”
Many professional games developers got their first experience of programming through these books. Their re-release comes at a time when there is a renewed push to teach programming in schools to children as young as five years old.
Usborne has recently published two new books in the series: Lift-the-Flap Computers and Coding, and Coding for Beginners using Scratch. The latter focuses on the Scratch programming tool developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which is used in schools worldwide.
“I would say we use more methods to entice children into the information now. But I don’t think the basic level of what they’re interested in and what they understand has changed,” Usborne’s head of digital Lisa Watts told the Guardian in 2015.
In 2016, children are also increasingly able to learn programming skills through tablet apps like Tynker, Hopscotch, Coding Warriors, Kodable and Coda Game, which are made available through Google and Apple’s app stores, as well as through partnerships with schools.
Many of these apps have slick interfaces where children drag and drop blocks of code. For those kids, the Usborne books will give a sense of a time when typing in a line like LET M$(1)=”SULFACIDOR” was the pathway to making your next game.