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Priya Ardis
Merlin Raj and the Santa Algorithm
D. G. Priya, author
Service dog Merlin Raj learns computational thinking to "think like a computer" to help his family when Mom can't come home for the holidays in Merlin Raj and the Santa Algorithm. Who says you can't learn new tricks?
Priya’s heartwarming and informative debut chapter book introduces young readers to a sweet service dog and also to the concept of algorithms. Merlin’s primary job is to help his “best friend and furless brother,” Matthew Raj, get around, but he works hard at making the entire Raj family happy. When Matthew’s mom is away for work over winter break and the family is sad that she can’t be there for picking out a tree or making their traditional Christmas cake, Merlin tries to use what he learned about algorithms at Matthew’s school to come up with the most successful step-by-step ways to turn the family’s sadness into happiness.

Writing from Merlin’s point of view, Priya employs a fun, youthful voice with the occasional dose of mischievous dog. Hampe’s dynamic, slightly cartoonish pencil drawings capture Merlin’s energy and eagerness. While Matthew’s teacher uses the process of dyeing a sock to explain what an algorithm is, Merlin, a sock aficionado, is thoroughly distracted by the mouthwatering garment being dangled in the air “like juicy meat,” but the humor helps the lesson sneak into the minds of both the dog and the reader. Throughout the story, as Merlin tries to analyze whether his decisions will help the family and what actions he should take, Priya seamlessly teaches young readers how algorithms are used to find the best outcome.

Priya includes useful resources for young readers who want to learn about algorithms, as well as two helpful glossaries that make terms such as “fault tolerance” and “improvise” accessible. The book concludes with the recipe (“a yummy way to follow a set of steps to accomplish a task”) for an important part of the story, the cake, which is both fun and easy for kids to make with an adult. This delightful story has a winning mix of problem-solving, Christmas cheer, and a very cute, very helpful pup.

Takeaway: Parents who want to give their kids a head start with computer science will love this tale of a service dog learning to use algorithms.

Great for fans of Linda Liukas’s Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding, Josh Funk’s How to Code a Sandcastle.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: A-
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A