Ada & Zangemann: A Tale of Software, Skateboards, and Raspberry Ice Cream

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I was lucky to get my hands on a physical copy of Ada & Zangemann: A Tale of Software, Skateboards, and Raspberry Ice Cream, by Matthias Kirshner (President of Free Software Foundation Europe) and illustrator Sandra Brandstätter. It’s a lovely children’s book about the joy of tinkering, open and closed technology, and power.

That all sounds a little heavy, but in the spirit of books like Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, A&Z avoids preaching or talking down, and instead gives kids a template to help them understand the bigger patterns that shape their world. It tries to help kids make sense of how the tech they are using every day to learn, socialize, and create opens possibilities and sometimes closes them. More importantly, it helps them understand that tablets, and YouTube, and video games are made by someone.. and that matters a lot!

A&Z is carried along by Brandstätter’s expressive and kind of hilarious illustrations and reads like a modern fable – the omnipotent Zangemann in his castle on the hill, dictating what music people can listen to and what flavors of ice cream they get to eat. But some of its strongest moments are when kids see a problem or injustice and talk it through or call it out together. A&Z also reminds me, when we see how much fun Ada is having tinkering with her junkyard inventions or with her first few lines of code, of two other works that help kids understand the positive, playful potential of tech and collaboration: Minecraft (side note: oh the irony of a closed open world..) and, for a much younger audience, Harold & the Purple Crayon.

On the surface, Ada & Zangemann is about open/free/libre technology versus the drawbacks of closed and monopolistic technology. But more fundamentally it’s a book that helps kids understand that the world doesn’t just happen, it is made, and that growing up is about figuring out how to pitch in and make it better.

IANAP (I am not a parent) but A&Z is probably appropriate for precocious early readers who aren’t quite ready for their first chapter books. It’s available for download and as a physical book here.