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Can You Crack the Code?: A Fascinating History of Ciphers and Cryptography

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Codes can carry big secrets! Throughout history, lots of good guys and lots of bad guys have used codes to keep their messages under wraps. This fun and flippable nonfiction features stories of hidden treasures, war-time maneuverings, and contemporary hacking as well as explaining the mechanics behind the codes in accessible and kid friendly forms. Sidebars call out activities that invite the reader to try their own hand at cracking and crafting their own secret messages. This is the launch of an exciting new series that invites readers into a STEM topic through compelling historical anecdotes, scientific backup, and DIY projects.

128 pages, Hardcover

First published March 26, 2019

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About the author

Ella Schwartz

9 books16 followers
Ella writes fiction and nonfiction books for young readers. She is always asking questions and trying to learn new things. The books she writes are for kids who are just as curious as she is.

Ella is the author of CAN YOU CRACK THE CODE? (Bloomsbury, 2019), STOLEN SCIENCE (Bloomsbury, 2020), IS IT OKAY TO PEE IN THE OCEAN? (Bloomsbury, 2020) and MAKE THIS! (National Geographic Kids, 2019).

In addition to writing books, Ella is a cybersecurity warrior interfacing with the U.S. federal government on strategic technology initiatives. She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering from Columbia University.

When she's not working, writing, or training to run a marathon, she volunteers on outreach initiatives to promote women in science and improve science literacy.

Ella lives on Long Island, New York with her husband and three sons. Her favorite color is pink, but there is rarely anything pink in her house.

Visit Ella on her website, www.ellasbooks.com. Follow her on Twitter @ellaschwartz and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/EllaSchwartz...

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 36 reviews
Profile Image for Moonkiszt.
2,043 reviews212 followers
September 12, 2022
Featured in a grandma reads session.

Our group had a fun time reading this over a number of sessions, and as the topic grew more complex our younger members had a difficult time staying focused. So eventually, this was one of the few that we didn't finished, but encouraged interested members to check out at the library to finish reading on their own. . .which a number of them did.

We enjoyed the history, and new knowledge of how long through time codes and ciphers have been with us.

5 coded stars since post-read interest was sustained and supported by our local libraries!
Profile Image for Alex  Baugh.
1,954 reviews108 followers
August 28, 2020
I love ciphers, codes and puzzles and have ever since I was a young girl. What I didn't know was the history of coding, and it is a fascinating one. Ella Schwartz has put it all together in this book along with some fun and challenging examples that kids can solve and use in their lives. Coded messages are known to have been used over two thousand years ago when the Roman emperor Julius Caesar used the Caesar cipher, which simply substituted one letter for another. Of course, with any code or cipher, the recipient must know the key in order to understand the message. This is a well-written history by an expert in the field of cybersecurity. Today's kids will be interested in what she has to say about computer coding. When I was a classroom teacher, I always taught my kids a few coding basics and we would make a cipher wheel like this one (head over to Randomly Reading for complete instructions and a template for making your own cipher wheel).

Pair Can You Crack the Code? with Explorer Academy Codebreaking Activity Adventure. Even if your kids aren't into the Explorer Academy series, this is a fun scavenger hunt based on different codes, ciphers, and puzzles.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Tyree.
Author 11 books16 followers
March 25, 2019
Thank you to Kid Lit Reviews and Bloomsbury Press for sending this book for review. All views expressed here are my own.

If anyone you know is interested in ciphers and cryptography, their use, their creation, or their semi-illustrious history, Ms. Schwartz's book is definitely for you! The histories placed within are not only fascinating (as the title promises), they are also incredibly interesting and informative. The reader learns the why, where, and how of creations, as well as those of breaking the codes.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars and highly encourage anyone interested in mysteries to pick it up. Whether you are looking to research for something else or are just interested in learning more about ciphers, this book is what you need.
Profile Image for Dena McMurdie.
Author 2 books133 followers
January 10, 2019
My daughter took a DukeTIP class on ciphers and cryptology and adored it. Then we got this book in the mail and she was over the moon about it.

This book discusses different kinds of codes that have been used throughout history and how to crack them. My daughter took the book to her friend's house and they spent several afternoons pouring over the book and working on codes.

This is a fantastic book for kids in the 9-12 age range that enjoy history, codes, ciphers, and cryptography. It's also a great way to introduce your child to a fascinating new hobby and teach them how to write coded messages to their friends.

Source: The publisher sent me a copy of this book.
Profile Image for Debbie.
3,210 reviews60 followers
March 13, 2019
"Can You Crack the Code?" is a children's nonfiction book about how codes have been created and cracked throughout history. The author talked about early ways people used to keep a message hidden and then delved into codes. She talked about ciphers, encryption, and decryption at a level that was easy to understand. She talked about the development of different encryption strategies intended to make it more difficult to break ciphers. There was also trivia about specific ciphers used in the past, especially unsolved cipher messages. She explained older, simpler methods (which the reader can use to create their own coded messages or to decode the messages she puts in the book) as well as modern, complex methods used in cybersecurity. This book is interesting enough for an adult to enjoy while simple enough that child can understand. Overall, I'd recommend this interesting book.

I received an e-book review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.
Profile Image for Maddy B..
12 reviews3 followers
March 24, 2021
I loved this book! I'm a big fan of codes and ciphers and whatnot, so this was a perfect book for me. The incredible history combined with the author's humor makes for a perfect read for anyone curious and clever (and perhaps a bit mischievous?).
Profile Image for Regina Chari.
219 reviews3 followers
February 7, 2020
What a fun book for children. This book is exactly what it says it is and will capture the minds of any curious child. I loved this book more that I thought I would. I think any child could enjoy it and would like to find this in their classroom or library!

The publisher provided an ARC through Netgalley. I have voluntarily decided to read and review, giving my personal opinions and thoughts
August 19, 2019
I loved reading this book with my 10 year old daughter and so did she! It's a fascinating and fun read and I highly recommend it to parents and kids alike!
Profile Image for Michelle Leonard.
Author 1 book6 followers
February 17, 2019
What do you do if you need to pass a super-secret note to a friend but want to make sure that no one else can read it? You make up your own code, of course- something only the two of you can decipher. CAN YOU CRACK THE CODE? will help you up your game in the encryption world while you uncover the fascinating history and current state of ciphers and cryptography. Filled with examples and encrypted messages, this book will be of HIGH interest for ages 8+.

Not only is the book filled with codes to figure out as you read, but it’s also brimming with resources to start you on your journey of becoming an encryption specialist and a hacker. The jargon of the industry is well-explained and the historical perspectives are fascinating! I couldn’t stop myself from reading passages out loud to my family, and though I’m so busy I barely had time to read the book, I want to research the Voynich Manuscript, join Google’s crew of white hat hackers, decode the message found in 2012 with the corpse of a WW2 carrier pigeon, solve the CIA’s Mysterious Kryptos Sculpture, read the Beale papers…In other words, I was completely INSPIRED, and I’m sure kids will be too.

It’s really difficult to get a perfect nonfiction voice for middle graders. I know because I’ve spent a lot of time on this myself for a book I’m working on, but congrats to Ella Schwartz because she NAILED it.

WARNING: Librarians, you need multiple copies of this one for your shelves because it’s going to be in high demand.

Highly recommended for all curious kids! Thanks to the KidlitExchange Network for providing me with a sample copy to review. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Kate Waggoner.
399 reviews
August 6, 2019
@kidlitexchange #partner

Thank you to the publisher @bloomsburypublishing and the author Ella Schwartz for sharing an advance copy of Can You Crack the Code? with the #kidlitexchange network. All opinions are my own.

This book is perfect for readers who love codes, puzzles, ciphers, and secrets. The book details different ways people have tried to hide their messages throughout history. It includes stories of hidden treasures, different plans and machines created to encode messages, and information on modern day hacking. Puzzles to test the readers skills are peppered throughout the book and it will culimnate with one large final puzzle that will call on the reader to use all of the skills they learned about throughout the book.

I really enjoyed learning about cryptography and how it has changed over the years. The stories are engaging but informative. The puzzles given throughout the book are fun and challenging. I also like that the author offers a couple opportunities for the reader to continue their work/research. For example, she lists the address to a website where you can help decode messages from the Civil War and another where you can learn about white hat hacking. The fact that the author is also an expert in her field is also a selling factor for me as a teacher. I'm always trying to remind my students to check where their information is coming from to ensure it's validity and authenticity. This is an educational and fun nonfiction book sure to engage middle grades readers.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
2,093 reviews25 followers
February 11, 2019
Let me just say that the subtitle is not kidding. This books covers codes from the ancient Greeks, through Caesar, Samuel Morse, Alan Turing, and up to the current day. Each chapter discusses the methods used to keep messages secure over the ages - from writing them on paper to be swallowed, sharing special code words, supercomputers using prime numbers to create encryption, and even biometric security. There are activities throughout the book that challenge readers to try their own skills at the various forms of deciphering and code breaking.

Photos of figures like Morse and Turing, as well as devices like cipher disks, the Enigma machine, and Bletchley Park's Bombe (the machine that cracked the Enigma code), add interest and reinforce that these are historical facts. There are also jokes such as, "Why don't Vikings send emails? They prefer Norse Code."

Sidebars provide information on the Code Talkers of WWII, as well as the women and African Americans who served as cryptoanalysts during the war. There is also information on the coded telegrams that Abraham Lincoln used to communicate with the Union Army. Readers may visit https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/z... to volunteer their help to decode Civil War telegrams and add them to archives.

If you have middle grade readers who are interested in mathematics or codes, this is the next book you need to show them. I read an ARC provided by the publisher for review purposes.
Profile Image for RedPoppyReading.
213 reviews3 followers
March 3, 2019
“Can You Crack the Code?,” written by Ella Schwartz and illustrated by Lily Williams, is an absolutely awesome book. Full of fascinating information and the history of ciphers and cryptography, this book entertained my entire family. We will be talking about and sharing the awesome historical tales in this book for years to come. I even learned a lot that helped me understand my software engineer husband’s job. It is written in a fun and easy to read format with sidebars and illustrations that pull it all together. This is a must have for any family that loves science, math, computers and/or history. I have already recommended it to several people. Pick up “Can You Crack the Code?” in bookstores on March 26, 2019.

Thanks to @bloomsburypublishing for sharing this book with #kidlitexchange and thanks to the @kidlitexchange network for the review copy of this book – all opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Desiree.
279 reviews5 followers
April 3, 2019
This handles the subject incredibly and if you can believe it or not kept me up at night wanting to finish it! I love how it's broken up, the scope of the history starting with Ceasar and going all the way to modern information security/privacy, plus the activities throughout the book and the secret code in the back...I've been doing this NF thing for 2 years now and this is easily one of the best, and certainly one I didn't expect to be so sucked in by.

My only criticisms are it's a bit text heavy in places, and simply judging by appearances, a kid might be inclined to find it boring and dry (at least that was my first impression). However, starting with ancient codes that were sent via a tattooed head that needed shaved hooked me in. Almost every page has an interesting fact on it - part mystery, part history, part secret code within a codebook! (And besides, what kid doesn't love sending notes in code?)
Profile Image for Sandy Brehl.
Author 8 books131 followers
November 26, 2019
Our minds crave patterns, and none more so than young minds. This is a young-reader-friendly dive into aspects global history, intents, and secrets of transmitting information via codes (long preceding "coding", as in digital codes). In a compact trim size, with readable text, clarifying images and plenty of examples and challenges from present and past.
Along the way the various code strategies converge onto more complex patterns until the final pages present a challenge to the reader to decode a complex message with a promise of a connection and response from the author for those who succeed.
This one has winner written all over it, especially as a gift for that (those) kid(s) whose attention is riveted by such information and challenge.
3 reviews
April 9, 2022
Stumbling upon this book reminded me of why ciphers and cryptography are fun. Cryptography has always intrigued me when I was a teenager. Now that I'm studying to become a secondary school teacher, I want to share that passion to my future students. I've been looking for a good book to reference and Ella Schwartz wrote a well-paced, fun-filled book while presenting the rich history of ciphers, cryptography, cybersecurity and more. I read this book with my 6-year old and she was hooked! We now exchange ciphers whenever we can. Ella is also a wonderful person and a true cipher-lover herself. Upon solving the code at the end of the book, I didn't expect a reply but she did! My daughter and I enjoyed every bit of the book and we were so happy when we cracked the code.
899 reviews27 followers
May 3, 2019
This is a great book for learning about ciphers and cryptography. It's more than just a history, it really goes in-depth into how they work, giving readers an opportunity to try encoding and decoding messages in different ways. It was a little "good guys / bad guys" focused for my preference, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it on that basis. I would love to have learned about some examples of nonviolent/nonmilitary usages.
Profile Image for Jessi.
4,939 reviews18 followers
April 28, 2019
Schwartz introduces a number of different ways that people could hide messages using numbers, switching letters, or even creating machines. Each chapter focuses on one way to create a code and then provides examples for the reader to try. Weaving a bit of fun with history, this is a book I would have devoured as a middle schooler.
Profile Image for Fleur Bradley.
Author 6 books195 followers
May 27, 2019
Such a great addition to my collection of books on codes and ciphers. I'll be taking this one along on my school visits. The history text is the perfect length, with accessible text and narrative.

The illustrations are just perfect. And I loved the DIY projects—I could see these being a great project for the classroom.

Highly recommended for your middle-grade mystery and spy buff.
252 reviews1 follower
June 12, 2019
Can You Crack the Code? takes readers back to the earliest codes throughout history and invites them to join in not only learning about them, but also how to use them and crack them. Kids interested in code-creaking will love it!
Profile Image for Brad Pierce.
31 reviews2 followers
July 1, 2019
Fantastic for kids (and adults) who want to know more about codes, cypher, and the history of cryptography.
Profile Image for Melanie.
Author 6 books205 followers
September 26, 2019
A great resource and a very fun read for brainiacs! There's something for everyone in this layered, unique read, and my boys REALLY loved solving the ciphers.
Profile Image for Ranranzi.
25 reviews2 followers
December 21, 2019
If you want to answer the question, it would be a little bit easier to have a physical copy of this book.
Profile Image for sal.
173 reviews16 followers
January 21, 2022
I enjoyed this overview of ciphers and cryptology. It presented difficult concepts in layman’s terms. Would highly recommend to interested readers of all ages.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
128 reviews8 followers
April 18, 2019
Fabulous and highly recommended by this teacher who wants more kids to explore the creative side of engineering and problem solving.

This book carries with it good credibility as the author is a modern day code maker. It reads like an authentic resource for middle readers who want to learn more about code making and breaking.

Schwartz keeps it intriguing and involves appealing language without dumbing it down. The text is part history book and part introduction to the logical thinking necessary to create and break codes.

I would've loved this as a young reader and I know so many of my students would devour it, too.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me a digital copy of this text. I read and fairly reviewed it without obligation.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 36 reviews

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