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I've found The Little Schemer[1] to be very approachable and effective for grokking common CS concepts.

[1]: http://www.amazon.com/The-Little-Schemer-4th-Edition/dp/0262...

I'm reading/working through this book now and can't recommend it enough, especially for those with limited time (or limited ability to focus and study due to environmental factors). I've worked through most of the first two chapters of SICP, but honestly felt a little overwhelmed at times. TLS has been enlightening AND fun. The format is genuinely unique and well-suited for reading/thinking in the small slivers of free time I have between work, kids, freelance, Khan academy, etc.

Most exercises don't require an interpreter, which is nice if you need a break from screentime. But I do enjoy working through some of them in Racket or even Pixie Scheme. TLS isn't free or available in a digital format (AFAIK), but the book is inexpensive and very portable.

I agree with this suggestion.

Also, I want to point out that "essential readings" is not the right attitude. In order to really make progress you're going to need to get your hands dirty and work though some examples. One very good exercise is to write an interpreter for a language you invent.

TLS series is wonderful - HTDP is great too, it assumes the student doesn't have programming experience which means they start out with simple stuff (and use Scheme for the implementation language!).

Ummm. I read this after SICP. While I found it to be an easy way to pick up a lot of "gotchas," I definitely wouldn't give this to someone as an intro to CS or programming. It's a good book though.

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