CSSE Grad Creates Children’s Book, Hoping to Encourage Youth to Pursue Computer Science

Jasmine Patel, with her book "Runtime."

Computer science isn’t just for “super geniuses who know computers,” said Jasmine Patel.

But, she added, some people have that perception.

Hoping to dispel such notions, the recent CSSE graduate wrote “Runtime,” a children’s book that highlights some of the fun and creative elements of computer science.

“Computer science is a great field to get into, and as there are more and more computer science jobs available, it is important to get young children exposed and interested,” she said. “Also, there are not enough girls in computer science, and if little girls read this book where the protagonist is a little girl, that might inspire them to get into computer science.”

Her book, which began as a senior project, was recently published by Puzzle Piece Publishing.

“Runtime” features a character named Char as she embarks on a colorful journey, solving puzzles and making friends along the way.  Complimenting the book’s colorful images is an educational coda about computer science terms and concepts — such as bytes, bugs, and runtime — that connects to the storyline.

“I tried to design ‘Runtime’ so that people of any age could find value and entertainment in reading it,” said Patel, who graduated in March and now lives in Pukalani, Maui, Hawaii.

Her book combines more traditional media – watercolors, Sharpies, pens, and pencils – with software, such as Adobe Illustrator, PhotoShop and InDesign.

Growing up, Patel enjoyed children’s books, including “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “The Quiltmaker’s Gift” and her favorite math-related book, “Go Figure!” by Johnny Ball.

“’Go Figure!’ had so much detail and did a really good job of breaking down complicated concepts into simple and digestible pieces,” she said. “Which is what I tried to do with ‘Runtime.’”

Patel, who has created drawings, paintings and other art since childhood, took a Web and Print Publishing course that helped the project, which was aided by faculty mentor Theresa Migler. Patel uses colorful images and characters based on computer science concepts to introduce young readers to the field.

Migler said her own children love the bold and bright illustrations and enjoy trying to find the bugs on each page.

“I love how Jasmine weaves very complex ideas into manageable images,” Migler said. “For example, greedy algorithms are a little tricky to understand, but ‘Gus the Greedy Goose’ opens up a wonderful avenue for conversation with children. Her take on the dining philosophers problem is so fun and approachable. Even the name of the main character, ‘Char’ is so clever and witty.”

Patel also received input from an important demographic: young readers at the ASI Children’s Center and children of family friends.

“This was really valuable since kids are the main audience,” she said.

While she now works as a product engineer at Ridgeline, which offers investment management software in the cloud, Patel is considering more writing – though the next book might be targeted toward an older audience.

“It would probably be a murder mystery with some computer science undertones,” she said.