Review: Drawing Data with Kids

Book cover of Drawing Data With Kids, showing a father doing art with a young girl in a green headscarf

As my daughter quickly approaches her ninth birthday, I’m realizing how transformative the last year has been for her— particularly as she faced an increasing entanglement with the digital landscape. She has a Chrome-book for school, an iPad for games and communication with friends, YouTube for tutorials, Alexa for music… the list goes on. I’m not anti-technology, but it’s nice to disengage and spend some quality time together away from screens. That’s the major appeal of Gulrez Khan’s book, Drawing Data with Kids. It’s a book full of stories that make data visualization accessible, low-tech, and something the whole family can do—no screens required.

Copy of the book Drawing Data With Kids covered by a ruler and several pens and pencils
A copy of the book, ready for action! (Image: Gulrez Khan)

The book centers around a ten-year-old girl named Pariza and her father, lovingly referred to as Abbu. Pariza loves playing games and has a knack for identifying patterns, which she turns into data visualizations with the help of her father. Each chapter begins with a story about Pariza to provide real-life context for the visualization, followed by a summarization of key ideas and terms, and finally a prompt to try it out for yourself. 

The chapter structure does an excellent job of progressing the reader through data visualization concepts in a sequential manner, with each chapter building on the previous one. For example, the book starts with foundational chapters on data organization and graph construction before diving into more complex strategies around larger data sets and comparisons. In the final chapters, Khan introduces design considerations like color, shape, and imagery, which add interest and clarity to the visualizations.

With its playful art style and typesetting, Drawing Data with Kids never feels intimidating or unapproachable. Which is important because the book also encourages you to make a mess! It’s fine to draw in the book, scribble on some graph paper, collage with flowers—whatever it takes to get your hands involved and develop that dexterity. The book is meant to be thrown into the learning process and not delegated to the bookshelf like a precious keepsake.

A simple outline map of the US with real cherry blossom flowers placed on top to indicate the locations known for their cherry blossoms
An example of visualizing data using flowers (Image: Gulrez Khan)
Two pages of white paper, each with four hand drawn line charts that appear to depict repeating noises over time (e.g., crying baby, cat's meow)
Charts sketched as part of Drawing Data With Kids (Image: Gulrez Khan)

Gulrez Kahn has crafted a great introduction for children to learn what data visualization is all about. The engaging stories, clever chapter structures, DIY spirit, and emphasis on screen-free visualizations makes Drawing Data with Kids a great catalyst to spend quality time with kids learning something new. I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon of entertainment and learning it provided to me and my daughter.

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Joseph Mackereth