With the “Humble Braniac Book Bundle” still underway, I felt it only fitting to keep the trend going and review books that are geared towards kids and those who want to have a quick introduction to the worlds of programming, web design and engineering. My daughter and I are exploring a lot of these titles at the moment, and one that caught my eye was “Build Your Own Website“, primarily because it promised to be “A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS and WordPress”, and that indeed it is.

I should probably mention that by “a comic guide”, it does not mean in the funny sense (though some of it is), but in the illustrated, graphic novel sense. For those familiar with NoStarch Press and their “The Manga Guide to…” series of books, Nate Cooper’s writing and Kim Gee’s artwork fits very well in that space. What’s more, “Build Your Own Website” follows the same template that “The Manga Guide to…” books do, in that each section starts with an illustrated graphic novel treatment of topics, and then follows on with a more in depth prose treatment of each area.

So what’s in store for the reader who wants to start on a mission to make their own site from scratch?

Chapter 1 starts with our protagonist Kim looking forward to her first web design class, and shows that inspired and excited first timer’s desire to get in and do something. It’s followed by an explanation of the tools needed to be downloaded and do the work necessary to complete the examples in the book. All of the exercises and examples can be done for free, all you need is a web browser or two, a text editor, an ftp client (the book recommends FileZilla; it’s the one I use as well) and you can get a free WordPress account at http://www.wordpress.com.

Chapter 2 talks about The Trouble with HTML, and how Kim and her dog Tofu meet up with the Web Guru, who introduces them to the basics of HTML, paths and naming conventions, loading pictures and following links, the hierarchy of files and directories that make up a basic web site, and a dragon called “404”. The second section goes into details about all of these including explaining about document structure, HEAD and BODY tags, the items that go in each, embedding images, and a basic breakdown of the most common HTML tags.

Chapter 3 shows us how Kim Makes Things Look Great with CSS. Well, Glinda, the Good Witch of CSS helps Kim do that (graphic novel for kids, gang. Work with me, here 😉 ). Glinda shows Kim the basics of CSS including classes and IDs, inline styles and external stylesheets that can be referenced along with inline styles, effectively creating a “cascade of styles” (CSS == “Cascading Style Sheets”). The chapter also discusses using div’s for creating separate sections and blocks that CSS can be applied to, and ends with commonly used CSS properties.

Chapter 4 is where Kim Arrives in WordPress City, and where the examples focus on, of course, WordPress as a composition platform. Kim gets introduced to what WordPress is, which is a Content Management System (CMS), and the conventions of creating both blogs and websites. Kim is introduced to the Dashboard, creating posts, using the Visual editor, structuring her site, using Categories and Tags, using the Media Library to store media items, and the overall Theme to be used for the site. Each of these is covered in greater detail with examples in the second prose part.

Chapter 5 takes us to Customizing WordPress, and the myriad options that Kim can use to make her site look the way she wants it to. She is introduced to the Appearance panel, the difference between free and premium Themes, plugins such as Buy buttons or sharing posts on social media, Widgets that perform special functions that can be replicated for sections or each page, changing the navigation options to get to your pages quickly, and how each of the elements of WordPress are built on HTML and CSS (as well as things like JavaScript, PHP, Ruby, etc.).

Chapter 6 brings us to The Big Launch, where Kim and Tofu navigate the realities of hosting the site and how to set up hosting so that they can display their finished site to the world. There’s lots of options, and most cost some money, but not very much (plans ranging from $5-$10 a month are readily available). Registering a domain is covered, and many sites have an option to install WordPress and use it there.

Bottom Line:
“Build Your Own Website” starts with some basic HTML and CSS, and then spends the bulk of the second half of the book introducing you, the user, to WordPress. For those looking to see the nuts and bolts of making a web site from scratch, including making the navigation elements, more involved interactions, and other esoteric features of web sites outside of the CMS system that WordPress provides, you will be disappointed. Having said that, if the goal is to get a site up and running and using a well designed and quick to use interface, WordPress is a pretty good system, with lots of flexibility and ways to make the basic formatting of a site nearly automatic. Younger web development acolytes can get in and feel what it’s like to design and manage a site. To that end, “Build Your Own Website” does a very good job, and does it in an entertaining and engaging manner.

I would recommend this as a good companion book with “Lauren Ipsum“, so as to give some high level computer science interaction. Both books also show that young programmers can get in, see what is happening, and become curious as to what comes next. From there, focusing on books that deal with JavaScript or frameworks for setting up sites will be less of a jump, because we can look back at WordPress and its CMS and say “oh yeah, that looks familiar”. “Build Your Own Website” sets up a nice foundation, and makes a good jumping off point for those further explorations.