Observation #1: Writing for kids can be a tricky business — they’re all different, for one thing! Furthermore, things that (parents think) ought to interest them often do not, while stuff that (parents think) is too dumb to bother with sometimes fascinates them.
Observation #2: Electronics can be a dry subject, especially if it’s a relatively obscure topic–Kids! Learn about opto-isolators!–sometimes it takes a little finessing to get kids to be interested.
Authors James Floyd Kelly and Harold Timmis make a clever and downright compelling attempt to tackle both truisms in their new book, Arduino Adventures: Escape from Gemini Station. It’s a book that describes the Arduino phenomenon for the benefit of children 8+ — so, nothing is assumed when it comes to the knowledge kids bring to the table.
The authors take a fun and effective tack on introducing the technology: they use a fictional storyline, set in the future, which has a boy and girl exploring Gemini Station, a decommissioned space station turned into a museum of ancient electronics technology. During the course of their explanations, the station suffers a severe malfunction and the kids are trapped — with only Arduinos and ancient components to see them to safety!
Each project and exercise in the book consists of something the kids need to overcome a challenge they face. For instance, the kids need to get across a gap in the flooring, with only a mobile bucket able to get them across the gap. However, the system controlling the bucket is fried, so the kids have to build a motor control device using a breadboard, some H-bridge motor control ICs, and some buttons. Another challenge has them triggering a servo by shining a flashlight at a photo resistor, in order to press a button from behind an airlock door.
The projects are fun and fairly complicated–the authors don’t shy away from challenging their readers! At the same time, they take their time to introduce a wide array of components, software concepts, breadboarding techniques, and so on. They walk through the projects one jumper at a time, using Fritzing diagrams to show where to put each wire, all the while explaining what they’re doing.
The projects all use breadboards–no soldering required. At the same time, they require a fairly robust set of components to build them. Cleverly, the authors sell a parts pack that is all kids need, besides the book, to complete the projects.
I found myself impressed with the job James and Harold did in introducing the concept of electronics and Arduinos to their young readers, and insofar as one can predict what will work, I could totally see this book–especially in conjunction with a class–doing wonders to help kids learn about hobby electronics.