Ada and Zangemann: Fancy reading your kids a book about FOSS?

It's not every tech conference that has story-reading sessions… but maybe they should Free Software Foundation Europe president Matthias Kirshner's picture book Ada and Zangemann explains the concepts of FOSS to school kids… and managers, marketing people, and victims of Windows-induced Stockholm Syndrome.

Ada and Zangemann

Ada and Zangemann –Pic: CC-by-sa 3.0, Sandra Brandstätter

We first clapped eyes on the book at, a Linux developers' conference, run by Red Hat in the home city of its biggest presence in Central Europe. This program item was not the sort of presentation we were expecting, but to be honest, it was a welcome change from presentations about Kubernetes, let alone keynotes about "AI".

The reason for the reading is that Ada & Zangemann - A Tale of Software, Skateboards, and Raspberry Ice Cream is a fun illustrated children's story. It's about a little girl called Ada, who enjoys taking apart broken gadgets she finds at the town dump… and slowly learning how to fix them. Then, she discovers a thing called software. It's a lively, engaging book for elementary-school-age kids, which tells an involving story while also explaining the principles of FOSS. It's very much a book with a Message, but then, Kirschner's day job is presiding over the Free Software Foundation Europe.

One interesting aspect of the book is that it isn't just about FOSS, it also is open source: the text, and artist Sandra Brandstätter's illustrations are distributed under the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license. We suspect that there aren't many story books with their own Git repository – but maybe there should be.

Originally written in the author's native German and published auf Deutsch by O'Reilly – which is, apparently, very unused to this sort of tome – it's now also available in English, as well as in French and Italian translations, and thanks to volunteer efforts, versions in Ukrainian, Arabic, Valencian, Portuguese, Hindi, Dutch, and Esperanto are in preparation. (French speakers can read the book online for free on that site.)

It's not only for kids. Kirschner told us that "one reader said to me 'I gave it to my boss, and finally he gets what I kept talking about!'" We regularly see comments from Windows users who are considering defecting to Linux, but suffer decision paralysis when confronted with the sheer range of choices available. Why are there so many variants? Well, because one size doesn't fit all, and when people are free to experiment and do their own things – they do. Lots of them.

The book explains this in accessible terms of ice cream flavors, smart skateboards, and speakers which are restricted in what music they play. "Software" is a bit of an abstruse term for smaller kids, but ice cream can get them engaged and argumentative.

It's a fun little book, and it's not just a beardie polemic. Different translations are being published and sold under various schemes, but a little money makes its way back to the FSFE, and it gives kids agency: it shows them that they can have control of something and do their own thing. That, we reckon, is real empowerment. There are also materials to help you talk about the book to kids and to get them discussing the ideas. A fun wrinkle is that kids can write letters to the Zangemann character (who we felt bore a resemblance to Steve Jobs). And in case you quite reasonably question the Reg FOSS desk's opinions in such matters, the book's reviews are stellar. ®


By way of a disclaimer: this vulture was surprised to be given a signed copy of the book by its author at FOSDEM earlier this year. In the tradition of Register Hardware, he field-tested it by reading it to his own daughter. She's a a bit too young for its concepts just yet, but she was captivated anyway: it's the first time she's encountered a story book whose protagonist shares her name. We can definitely report a positive reception.

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