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Usborne 1980s computer programming books for kids become free downloads (usborne.com)
113 points by erickhill on Feb 7, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 37 comments

I learned to program in BASIC from a copy of "The Beginner's Programming Handbook" that my father gave to me. Like many other commenters on this thread, I didn't have a computer, but the illustrations in the book itself made it clear that programs were always written on notepads (just look at the cover http://www.computinghistory.org.uk/userdata/images/medium/PR...). As soon as I found a sufficiently yellow notepad I knew I had everything required to code.)

This book showed me how to code simple car crash games, in-memory databases, Eliza, bubble and shell sort.

I loved this book so much I've carried it with me over an accumulated 22,800km, in the hopes that one day, my kids too will have their imaginations full of gaudy little robots who run to interpret code on yellow spiral-bound notepads.

In the early 80s, when I was 5 or 6, I got Basic for Beginners and Programming Tricks and Skills (along with a couple of other Usborne books which were about video games) from my local K-Mart in rural Australia.

These books kicked off my love affair with programming, and like many of you I was writing out code without even owning a computer! I remember trying to make a computer out of cardboard and graph paper, and was disappointed that it didn't work. The fact that I could comprehend a for loop before the laws of electricity is kind of trippy.

Anyway, these books were my introduction to a lifelong love affair with programming, and I owe my entire career to them.

At the risk of sounding like a greybeard, things were very different then. If you grew up in the Internet age, it may be difficult to grok that there was a time when information was scarce, and that just carrying around books like these gave you immense understanding and potential.

information was scarce indeed, till this day i still feel a little sorry i was not born 10 years later. Since when i learned (gw-)basic from the 3 books our public library had to offer i was full of enthusiasm, but after that my development practically stalled due to lack of information. Until the internet came around, but that was 10 years later and i was already in my early 20s :|

Wow. "Introduction to Computer Programming" was quite literally my first intruduction to programming. I didn't have access to a computer until several years later, so I just wrote programs on a piece of paper.

Computer Battlegames was my first introduction to programming after finding a dog-eared copy in the local library in the late 80s.

I spent many happy minutes carefully retyping all the code into quickbasic and then spending endless hours trying to frig the c64/zx81 syntax to work.

Good times. After lunch i'm going to go back and finally get the missile game to work!

The 9-12yr old me had at least 5 of the books shown on that page in the early 80s :)

All the coding/gaming I did on my Spectrum lying down in front of the living room TV gave me these rough 'carpet callouses' on my elbows. They took at least decade to go away after I moved on from the Spectrum.

These books were beautiful. They gathered your attention and fantasy even before playing and they were inspiring. I obviously admire the technical quality of today's games, but remember what the power of imagination was able to do when i was playing 8bit games in the '80s!

From the website: "These books were written for 1980s computers such as the ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro. The programs will not run on modern computers."

Not true! They'll all run perfectly on RISC OS on the Raspberry Pi, especially easily on RISC OS Pico.

I remember several of these books very fondly, it's great to see them made available like this. Usborne Books in general are brilliant.

I can't tell you how much I loved these books growing up. I also own the collections of their puzzle books and wish they'd reprint their ghost puzzle collections.

I think you can. These books resonate with many of us. I remember checking them out from the school library again, and again, and again, and again...

Trying to port them to my MS-DOS machine running QuickBasic was a bit hit-and-miss.

I was the same. Spent many hours trying to convert the C64 / Apple code into the Dick Smith Wizard. Loved it and drove me nuts at the same time...

Oh wow! I remember borrowing these from the library when I was a kid! Awesome!

And going back every second Saturday to renew the same book, again & again...

it was you!! - sleep with one eye open, timthorn

Some comments here are like I wrote them. I got an old ZX Spectrum clone from my aunt when I was a kid. Badly obsolete at the time so I did not tell my classmates who already were playing Diablo and NFS on their 486s. I remember scavenging library for these colorful books all the time. They really fascinated me. I think they got one thing right; kick-start the imagination and make kids learn by playing around.

I had the same thought; I remember the covers and titles of several on that page. I never owned any, but I borrowed several from the local Library and fought with my 48k Spectrum to get them to run as a child.

I used to take these books with me when I went on holidays to the country in Australia. There wasn't a computer there, so I would write down the code on sheets of paper so I could type them into my MicroBee when I got home.

These books are directly responsible for me being a programmer today!

The free downloads (PDF) are on the right-side of the page. Some classics include:

  - Machine Code for Beginners
  - Introduction to Computer Programming, BASIC for beginners
  - Write your own Fantasy/Adventure Games on your microcomputer

It's great enough that they've released them, but I love how they've used them as a draw to the page where they present their new/current computing books by presenting both on the same page instead of hiding them away somewhere.

I got the Computers and Coding flap book for my 6 year old this Christmas, and got second-hand copies of many of the original books for myself. It's striking how closely the new publication's content matches that of the older books, despite the changes in the industry.

There are several other books from the Usborne 80's catalogue not shown on that page but worth having: Understanding the Micro, Usborne Guide to Computers, How to Make Computer Controlled Robots & How to Make Computer Model Controllers

It took me several passes at the Lifeline Book Fair and an occasional trip to Ebay but I think I have the entire range now.

The Usborne books were great fun at the time and still a model, I think, for teaching programming concepts to kids of all ages.

I'm pretty sure it was How to Make Computer Controlled Robots that I found in my school library as a kid and spent hours staring at, desperately wishing I had access to anything resembling a computer...

Brilliant books, and like many of the commenters here, they were my real introduction to programming. The way they visualized the abstract concepts was fantastic.

The biggest downer back in those heady 8-bit home computer days, was the plethora of platforms and the differences in the BASIC dialects. Made getting those code listings working a bit of a pain.

I'm fairly certain that the book "Practical things to do with a Microcomputer" I had when I was a small child was partly responsible for my career in Software Engineering, even though as a teenager I hated computers and just wanted to become a mechanic.

That's incredible. Usbourne books including some of those filled my shelves as a kid along with Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston's fighting fantasy series. Nostalgia is cheap these days. I'll be buying some Usbourne for my children soon...

And I'm not finding the source code any easier to read. Thank God we moved on from one char variable names.

The "Computer Fun" book is what first taught me about programming, on the C64.

I remember typing in the program that tells you how old you will be in the year 2000. At the time it seemed unimaginable that I could ever be 21 years old!

Feeling very nostalgic looking through this.

I've created a github repo where we can rewrite all of the games in the "type it yourself" books in many different languages: https://github.com/rcraggs/Usborne-1980-Programming-Polyglot

Please go ahead and start to rewrite them in your favourite language or one that you want to learn.

The one I rewrote in python was surprisingly fun to play.

Awesome.... I have a bunch of these sitting on my bookshelf :)

I might actually try these on an emulator. Relive the past for an hour. On a side note, the fact that coding is part of the curriculum in the UK makes me very happy. I went to my son's open day at secondary and some kids were at the computer lab learning Python. They are learning at 14 what I make my living on.

What would a modern programming book for kids look like? Would it use javascript?

If it did, I like to think it'd feature 100 pages of setting up and debugging your module loader, preprocessors, dependency resolution, mvc framework, polyfills, unit tests and build scripts. ;)

Full disclosure: I basically write JavaScript for a living. I quite like it, and the above comment was supposed to be humerous rather than an attack on thin-skinned js aficionados as the downvotes would suggest.

There are actually two brand new programming books for kids right on that page. One of them uses a language called Scratch.

They feel like the Head First series...only more fun.

These are fantastic. Just browsed through the fantasy game book, and the illustrations are lovely. Especially like the comments done as goblins with speech bubbles beside the listings :-)

I missed the days of BASIC that required line numbers, but this reminds me fondly of my first programming class, in QBASIC on old 386 DOS clones

I have a real Beeb, C64, VIC20 and Atari 800 right here, going to enjoy these for a second time 'round :-)

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