Book Review: Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide To HTML, CSS And Wordpress
Sometimes the best way to make a complex subject easy to understand is to use a comic-book format (as anyone who's ever seen one of Larry Gonick's amazing "cartoon history" series can testify). Things that look awfully dry and confusing when they're put forth as words on paper can look much more appealing when an artist has put them into pictures. Since I still haven't mastered writing HTML code, I had high hopes for Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS and Wordpress. Did I get what I hoped for? Read on to find out.
Can A Comic Teach You Code?
Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS and Wordpress isn't quite what its title promises. The comic-book sections serve as an introduction to sections that explain the same things in straightforward text that isn't much different from other "learn to create web pages" instruction guides.
The comic-book part is… well, if you're a long time reader of comic books and graphic novels (as I am) you'll find the illustrations rather crudely drawn. No superheroes here, just the adventures of Kim, her dog Tofu, and assorted other characters who try to show Kim the ins and outs of coding.
Kim's story starts out with her attempts to write HTML code, and her discovery of the many things that can happen if you don't write it correctly.
Once the illustrated story takes Kim through the learning process of putting together her first page, creating its index file, linking all the images properly, checking her work and slaying the 404 dragon yet again, the book switches to an 11-page explanation (in fairly small type) of what it was that she did. The printed explanation goes into a lot more detail about the process, and I think for most people, this is where they'll find the most useful information. So, can a comic teach you code? Not really. But it could be a helpful introduction to web page creation for people who learn things better with images.
On To The Style Sheets
The next section tackles the creation of CSS, or cascading style sheets, introducing a new guru and heading off into something resembling a Wizard of Oz parody.
CSS creation is a complex topic regardless of how it's explained, so the comic-book explanation is longer and features an ongoing quarrel between the HTML guru and the CSS guru, which I guess was intended to show how the two are linked, but it seemed to take space away from the instructions after a very short time.
And of course the plain-text explanation that follows the comic book is also longer and more detailed and very dense with information.
The book encourages the creation of a test HTML document to practice using what it's teaching, and that more than anything will show newcomers how things work, how they go wrong and how they can be fixed. Especially with CSS, it's important to follow along in the text by working on the test document the way it's explained. The printed explanation lays things out in a lot more detail than the comic-book section did, and should make the test document easier to work on.
The Wizard Of Wordpress
The Wizard of Oz parody continues in the section devoted to WordPress. Kim finds out that all the HTML and CSS skills she's spent so much time learning in the previous sections aren't necessary at all when she uses WordPress. (Poor Kim.) :)
Kim and Tofu work their way through WordPress City, learning how to create a WordPress site. The book is understandably enthusiastic about WordPress, because it makes page creation easy and no special coding skills are required. However, it's not till the comic section is finished and the text section begins that we find out that the authors expect the readers to have a self-hosted WordPress domain (aka their own website) because the wordpress.com site only uses a small subset of the full WordPress. That might come as a rude surprise. (But stay tuned, there is help included in the final section.)
However, if the reader has, or can set up, a personal web site, the text section that explains WordPress is well organized and full of helpful illustrations that should make creating WordPress pages very easy. (The creators of WordPress have helped a lot in recent years, partnering with domain hosts to offer one-click installation rather than the "download, unpack, and ftp it yourself" process used in years gone by.)
In the next comic-book section, Kim learns how to personalize her WordPress site using the Appearance page in the dashboard, plugins, and WordPress themes. There are a lot of options available and the comic-book section walks Kim through them, and there's even a surprise ending as she finds out that there's more to WordPress City than she's been told. Once again, the text section goes into a lot of detail and explains the customization process so most people can easily understand how it all works.
Kim And Tofu Put It Together
What if the reader doesn't have his or her own web site already? The final section, The Big Launch, offers plenty of good advice (both comic-book and text) about choosing a web host (including expecting to pay for a hosting service rather than just picking the first free one you see, which is excellent advice). It also explains the process of using ftp to upload the necessary files for any kind of web site, including a recommendation for FileZilla, an excellent free ftp client.
By the end of Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS and WordPress, the reader should have plenty of useful information on hand to use as a guide to the creation of almost any kind of web site.
I found this book easy to read, and it was well organized and well thought out. People who expect it to be 100% comic-book format, though, are going to be disappointed (not that this is a bad thing, I hasten to add, because the information in the plain-text sections is much more detailed and easy to turn to for future reference).
Despite the title, Kim's journey through the Land of Code really leads her to WordPress City, where the code she spent so much time learning is secondary to the WordPress package's sophisticated page creation process. Since the creators of WordPress are always adding new features and improving the current lineup, the illustrations likely will not match what the current version of WordPress looks like, but the basics of creating WordPress sites remain the same.
Where To Buy
Each person learns best in different ways, so I can't make a blanket recommendation for Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS and WordPress. I can say that the authors put a lot of thought and a lot of work into the guide, so if your learning style fits the way they've taught these complex subjects, this book will be a valuable addition to your reference library. Buy it from a bookseller who has a good return policy, and give it a whirl!