stoolpigeon writes "Hackerteen Volume 1: Internet Blackout is an interesting new project, a graphic novel being published by O'Reilly. What makes it interesting is not just that this is a rather new direction for O'Reilly but that this is, to my knowledge, a rather unique publication in that it seeks to educate teenage youth about an array of issues ranging from privacy, free software, security and the impact of politics on personal freedom as it relates to the use of technology. Making topics like that exciting, and understandable to a young person may sound like a tall order, and I think it is." Read below for the rest of JR's review.This book has an extremely interesting background and it is worth taking the time to look at. Hackerteen is not just a name, it is an edutainment program created by the Brazilian company 4Linux. The program consists of distance learning and instructor led classes that allow students to progress through a series of colored belts. Currently the classes are only available in Portuguese and on site only in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The Hackerteen site says that materials in Spanish and English are being developed now.
The curriculum, according to the site, arose out of a desire to deal with three problems.
- Excessive time spent by young people playing computer games on the internet.
- Young people committing digital crimes on the internet.
- A lack of professionals who work with networks and computer security.
Part of the mission for the book is introducing a wide array of issues and terms to the reader. Often a topic will or word will be accompanied by a footnote with a url for a hackerteen page holding an article containing relevant information. Not all the links are as informational though, with many linking to a graphic without much information. Hopefully these are placeholders for articles like the two that I've referenced here. A number of interesting topics are brought up, and a reader could research them on their own, or they would allow for good discussion points in a teaching setting. The only issue is that sometimes the placement of topics is a bit forced. A humorous example of this is when a teen-age girl who needed help choosing a web-cam, just a few pages later asks her aunt for money to attend a course on the Creative Commons.
The artwork is acceptable. It is at times a bit awkward, at others pretty solid. I think that it as at least as good as much of what I read when I was a teen, probably better than much of it. What is exceptional compared to the illustrated works of my youth are the materials and production quality. The cover is glossy, the colors are vibrant and the pages are going to stand up for a long time. Of course the flip side of this is that quality like this does not come cheap. The cover price is $19.99 and that's a bit steep for young kids today.
I think though that this has the potential to be a useful educational tool. I am hoping that some schools are willing to pick up that cost to allow their students access to this material, but a part of me thinks that may be a bit optimistic. I would suggest that for those of us who may hold some of these issues dear to our hearts, and who are sometimes dismayed at the attempts by many to influence the populace in a different direction, this may be a worthwhile investment. I think buying a copy or two, for relatives, a local school or library may pay dividends in the future. It is quite possible that for many this will be their first introduction to many of the issues presented in the book.
I loaned my copy to a co-worker. He and his kids read it. For them the introduction to Linux, the ideas of FOSS and others were brand new. When he returned the book my co-worker told me that he had never heard of the creative commons and I explained what it was. His boys he said were interested to see how the story would develop moving forward.
It's not easy making issues of freedom and safety exciting. The story is sometimes a bit over the top and the writing is sometimes weak. Internet savvy kids are going to struggle with some of the events, not due to glaring technical problems, but because some of the events are just a bit silly. That said, the options I've seen explaining these topics wouldn't just be 'o.k.' to a teen, they would be downright painful. So should we wait until the kids grow up to start teaching them what matters? I'd say this is definitely worthwhile and hopefully as the series moves forward it will only get better.
I think it is worth noting that while Marcelo Marques is the author, the book does list the full team who created it. They are Hugo Moss (story supervisor), Joao Felipe Munhoz (artist), Fabio Pontes Ramon Felin (colorist), Rafael Kirschner (colorist),and Ricardo Bomfim (colorist).
The slashdot review guidelines describe a 7 as "A good book; better than merely adequate, though not outstanding." The price, short length and acceptable but not great artwork put it there in my mind. I'm 39 and a younger person may not be as critical with the art or writing. It is good, and has great potential for impact. With a little bit better artwork, some stronger writing and if possible a bit lower price point this could be really fantastic. I'm looking forward to seeing how Volume 2 turns out.
You can purchase Hackerteen Volume 1: Internet Blackout from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.