June 27, 2013

Adalay Drifts Away - Bilingual Children's Lit in English/BASIC

I'm not going to lie: I love the time of year for Cheerios books.

If you're not familiar, every year for a couple of months, Cheerios releases their Spoonfuls of Stories books, bilingual children's books (English and Spanish) that are included inside specially-marked boxes of Cheerios cereal. My kids love these books. I love these books. They are pocket sized, beautifully illustrated, and the along-side Spanish translation helps to reinforce the lessons which Dora the Explorer and her abrasive backpack have taught my 2-year-old about alternative languages (something this pocket of America so unfortunately lacks).

I've always wanted to write a Cheerios book. Now that I'm a grown up, I suppose I can.

But let's rewind to a time when I wasn't a grown up. I didn't have Cheerios books. The only marginally bilingual books that I owned looked like this:

This and many such books may still be found online at bombjack.org.

They were usually a series of short stories, or complete novellas, which, within the standard story prose, would contain snippets, or entire standalone sections, of code which could be entered into a BASIC interpreter. These pieces of code would enhance the story in one way or another, from displaying text on the screen to allowing entire games to be played to further the narrative. And while they didn't teach me Spanish, they taught me BASIC to at least a base level of competency.

Now I know there are many that will argue that BASIC is not a "language," and would not help to satisfy a language requirement toward degree completion, but honey nuts to that. By reading these books as a child, and inputting the printed code into the Commodore 64 BASIC interpreter, I was learning to communicate with a machine. There was no slang, no ambiguity, and my goodness, if I didn't get the syntax exactly right in every sentence which I "spoke," the machine would tell me, hand-slappedly, that I was doing it wrong (very much like my high school German teacher: "The Frau").

I've always wanted to write a BASIC-enhanced book. Now that I'm a grown up, I went ahead and did so. And to kill two birds &c., I've gone ahead and created a bilingual, Cheerios-style children's book, in English and Commodore 64 BASIC.

Adalay Drifts Away is a book that I wrote for my daughter to give her the same experience that I had growing up with a C64. Now that these machines are hard to come by, I've loaded an emulator on our home machine (Frodo for Mac OS). She's a little too young to input the code at this time, but with her daddy's assistance, she is able to experience a higher level of traditional storybook storytelling.

In a manner similar to that of Cheerios books, the English prose is set side-by-side with a BASIC translation of each scene. Rather than be a simple translation (like an English-Spanish one would be), the BASIC translation takes what is written in English and presents on-screen animation, audio, and other user-driven processes which directly reflect the words on the page.

I will admit, one of my favorite aspects of this is seeing the code written on the page. This, to me, proves the legitimacy of BASIC as a written language. If one is fluent enough, the need to input this into a machine goes away. The code becomes a set of signifiers which the brain can process and translate into mental images, audio, and other user-driven ideas, just as well as a machine can.

For a gift to my daughter, I've had this book printed, and if you are interested in receiving a hardcover copy, go here: Adalay Drifts Away. If you just want to check it out and get a better sense of what I'm talking about, I have made a lower-quality .pdf version which you may get here: Adalady .pdf.



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