My suggestions for and review of FSFE's new children's book

I was invited by Matthias Kirschner to review his marvelous new children’s book about software freedom: Children Book: Ada & Zangemann - FSFE

Here is an amended version of my email I just sent. I think this perspective is worth sharing, and I do think otherwise the book is great and worth promoting.

Hi Briana [publisher rep from No Starch] and Matthias,

I found Ada & Zangemann effective, appealing, and well-done.

These sorts of kids books (and other media) usually fit two styles: stories and preachy (like rhymes that just tell you what to do). Stories are much better, and Ada & Zangemann is a good use of story form to also spread an important messsage.

I would wish the source material be published, much like David Revoy does with Pepper and Carrot. The book could explicitly tell readers that they can go get the source material and adjust the story their own way! The CC BY-SA license is just the right choice, thank you. Published source files would really make the difference though.

If I were to sit down and redo any of this myself, I might adjust some of the English style and various small edits and additions. Who knows what other ideas I’d have if I focused some time and energy into the details.

I do have a much bigger significant literary-criticism sort of idea:

The main concern I have is the use of “poetic justice”. The story follows the overly-dominant pattern of showing how good guys win the day and so on. It’s nice to be inspiring, but I’d like to see an alternate version of the story (alongside, not instead!) without the poetic justice.

I’d show Zangemann using his money to pay some of the now-programmer kids to update his inventions while agreeing to his rules, accepting NDA’s and proprietary terms. He then pays for lots of advertising and lobbying to convince everyone and the government to stay with his software. Then, I’d show Ada struggling in the end trying to decide whether to accept an offer from Zangemann that would bring her family out of poverty but would mean selling out her creative freedom. I’d end the book there.

That would leave readers stuck pondering uncomfortable feelings about what she should do and about similar choices we have in our lives. And this could tie into a prompt to continue creativity by telling readers that they could write sequels and tell the next parts of the story, what will happen if Ada sells out? What will happen if she sticks to her values?

I think the version I imagine would be ten times more powerful. If you publish the source files to the book, I would like to promote my prompt, inviting anyone, perhaps the original team, to work on it or on other adaptations that my suggestion might inspire. I would love to see it made and to see No Starch actually publish and sell it.

I think having multiple versions of the story would not be a bad thing but would instead be the strongest example you could have about the entire message of creative freedom.

Finally, I want to express my deep gratitude for being invited to review the book and share my feedback. I am happy to update you also after I read the hard copy with my son. I would love to hear whatever responses you have for me. I find the efforts of your work in this direction to be extremely important and cannot emphasize that enough.

In harmony,

Update: the book files are published at FSFE/ada-zangemann: Sources of the Ada & Zangemann children's book - ada-zangemann - FSFE Git Service

Matthias says they also intend to update that with real source files in free formats.

He also replied with support for the ideas and embracing the sense of allowing remixes and excited to see how it goes. Hooray for free culture!