Earlier this week I launched my first ever Kickstarter campaign. It's for the first in a series of original graphic novels for kids called Curly Bracket – The Hidden Code. The story follows a rebellious young girl in a dystopian future who, on her 13th birthday, begins an adventure to break away from the rule of Corporatus — a mysterious 'big brother' corporation that pretty much controls the world. Curly encounters a number of problems throughout the book (what adventure is complete without them?!) that young readers are encouraged to solve along with her.
You may be wondering, why an entrepreneur from Sweden would write a graphic novel about a little girl with superior problem-solving skills? It actually goes back 15 years, to when I was in college. While I was studying at the Faculty of Engineering LTH at Lund University I was approached by a neighbor's daughter who asked for my help in preparing for a big math test. I never tutored kids before, but I sat down at her kitchen table and dove in. It was fun and really rewarding – seeing someone learn right before your eyes. And, she did well on her test!
The next day, she came back and asked for my help again. Then, she began bringing her friends. It became a regular thing until I graduated – tutoring kids in math. I never realized how many children needed help with their studies. Both my parents were teachers, so as a kid I took for granted that I could always get help when I didn't understand something. I learned very quickly, not everyone is that lucky.
After college, I moved to Stockholm to start my career, but I never forgot about those tutoring sessions. I wasn't loving my career as a risk analyst so I started asking myself "when was I truly happy?". Turns out, it was when I was helping those kids to learn. So, I quit my job and started a nonprofit to provide tutoring services to kids full-time. Mattecentrum grew quickly – what began with me and a few kids in Stockholm soon spread to other cities and countries. Fast-forward a few years, and it has become the largest after-school educational program in Europe, operating in 29 cities, with over 600 volunteers tutoring over 1 million kids for free.
But, as successful as Mattecentrum was, it wasn't enough. I wanted to do more. Enter Curly Bracket.
I knew writing a book would let me reach even more kids. And I knew it had to be as fun as it was educational. I also knew it had to teach kids something lasting. There were a lot of books on coding for kids out there, but coding languages change. I wanted to get under the surface. What's the one thing coders and programmers and people in just about every STEM-based career share? Great problem-solving skills. And how do you learn great problem-solving skills? Computational thinking!
So, Curly Bracket was created as a different kind of graphic novel. It's half comic, half textbook, designed to help teach kids computational thinking in a fun, accessible way.
I wrote the book with my co-author and friend Tor Moström and we got kick-ass illustrator Peter Bergting to do the images. We launched Curly in Sweden in 2015 and it did really well. I used my network – built up over years of leading Mattecentrum – to drive visibility for the book and we sold out – even got the book integrated into the curriculums of some schools here. Parents embraced it, teachers embraced it and, most importantly, kids loved it – even with a subject like computational thinking at its core.
That's not to say I didn't have my challenges. There were plenty of folks who said "that's a stupid f-ing idea", but I won them over, one by one. When you look at the issues facing our school systems and teachers these days – lack of student engagement, too many students per classroom, poor performance/lack of interest in STEM studies – this book really makes sense. It's a tool – plain and simple. It helps give kids a leg up by teaching them how to think like a programmer vs. teaching them to be one. As the old saying goes, give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. But teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime. Curly teaches kids to fish.
And, that brings me to today. You might be wondering why I'm crowdfunding now if the book is already out. The answer to that is simple — so far it's only been available in Sweden and in Swedish. My partners and I want to give more kids access to Curly Bracket so we're translating the book into English, but we need some help getting it published and distributed. A successful Kickstarter campaign will enable us to do both – and expand our reach to English-speaking countries. We know Curly Bracket works. Now we want to give her an international stage upon which to work her magic!
Click here to get involved and donate to the Kickstarter campaign. Every pledge is much appreciated!
A social entrepreneur, educator, author and lecturer, Johan Wendt is also a long-time advocate of children's education and is the founder of nonprofit Mattecentrum — Europe's largest after-school program, educating approx. 1 million kids per year. He also founded Kodcentrum, a nonprofit specializing in coding education for young people. Johan created Curly Bracket with his co-author Tor Mostrom as a way to help young kids "think like a programmer" by introducing them to computational thinking. His accolades to date include Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2011, becoming an Ashoka fellow and the Sollos award for entrepreneurship.