Developer

Comics format offers a fresh approach for teaching HTML, CSS, and WordPress

Nate Cooper's book Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS, and WordPress is a great introduction to these topics for students of any age, says veteran developer Tony Patton.

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Image: Build Your Own Website/No Starch Press

I wasn't a big fan of comics growing up, but I was recently turned on to graphic novels, and now I'm a big fan. For this reason and because I'm a developer, I was excited about the release of Nate Cooper's book "Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS, and WordPress" published by No Starch Press and distributed by O'Reilly.

While No Starch Press has a lot of kid-friendly titles, I wouldn't place this book in that category because it's useful for adults as well. The comic portions (the artwork is by Kim Gee) have a character learning technical concepts from different instructors, and the author builds on those topics as the book progresses.

What's covered in Build Your Own Website

The book opens with a quick overview of general web concepts and tools that the reader may need or use. Cooper moves forward to the first big topic — HTML — and covers the basic elements of an HTML page. I like the discussion regarding the hierarchical file system and how this applies to websites (i.e., how files/directories are organized) and why paths are important when working with web resources. (It is a good idea to put some thought into directory layout before diving into creating an application.) The HTML section closes with details on using images.

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Image: No Starch Press
With basic HTML knowledge covered, Cooper dives into styling the HTML with CSS, which includes back-and-forth banter between the HTML and CSS instructors. The basics of styling and laying out text are covered. I like the emphasis on separating CSS from HTML into separate files and linking them together — it's a good practice to use from the start. At one point, the reader is told to right-click and view a page's source code to get an idea of how it has been coded/styled; while this seems like a good endeavor, in practice it can be overwhelming for newbies, as the source is not often easy to read or to follow.

Next, the author dips into the deep waters of WordPress, with one chapter devoted to the basics and another chapter on how to customize a WordPress site with pages, widgets, and more. WordPress can be overwhelming for first-time and seasoned users, but the author succeeds in providing good coverage to get up and running with a WordPress-based site.

The book closes with a chapter called The Big Launch, where the main character hops on a spaceship and is guided through various options for hosting a website from domain registration to actual hosting. Yes, it sounds silly, but it's a nice presentation. It includes details on some hosting options with a focus on hosting a WordPress site. There is a lot of information on HostGator, which is odd given how many options are available — hopefully it is just author preference and not advertising. The chapter reminded me of how quickly and easily you can set up a site these days, whereas it was a time-consuming and sometimes confusing process in the past.

The Mom seal of approval

My mother does a newsletter for her cancer survivor group, so I gave her the book to learn more about the inner workings of the details of her web-based newsletter, and she loved the way the subjects were presented and is now armed with more knowledge as she continues to produce content. Of course, this has led to more questions (from her to me), so a follow-up book would be good.

Informative and a great presentation

The topics covered in "Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS, and WordPress" are broad with only the major points covered, but it does meet its stated goal of providing a guide to building a website. While I was already familiar with most of the material covered in the text, my WordPress knowledge is limited, so I was able to pick up a few things in those chapters. I would like to see additional books in this format on more focused topics such as a more comprehensive WordPress guide or learning JavaScript.

Cooper's book provides a fresh approach to familiar topics for experienced developers that should appeal to everybody who is interested in these subjects. I highly recommend this title to anyone wanting a quick and painless introduction to HTML, CSS, and WordPress.

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About Tony Patton

Tony Patton has worn many hats over his 15+ years in the IT industry while witnessing many technologies come and go. He currently focuses on .NET and Web Development while trying to grasp the many facets of supporting such technologies in a productio...

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