Mara Lecocq was six years old when her father taught her to take apart a CPU. She got her first book about coding at the age 12. This was in 1995 when most kids didn’t know what coding meant and tech role models – for boys or girls – didn’t really exist.

All these years later, women mentors in the field are still scant for girls. Canadian women are vastly under represented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, making up 23% of engineering graduates and 30% of math and computer science programs, according to a 2015 Stats Can study.

That’s why Lecocq created the children’s book Secret Code, about a little girl who decides to build a robot to do her chores. Here’s the most important part: the protagonist is entirely customizable so readers can design a character that looks like them. 

Lecocq came up with the idea after searching for a present for a little girl’s birthday party and finding that the only empowering tales in stock were “both [about] white, blonde or redhead girls,” says Lecocq, who is part Filipino, part French.  “Cool, that’s great. But —why don’t we have awesome badass heroes in fun adventure stories who are [people of colour]? So I decided I wanted to create a personalized book where girls of all ethnicities could see themselves being a hero.”

She reached out to Canadian illustrator Jessika Von Innerebner to design the characters. “I loved the idea of female empowerment and putting positive images out for young girls,” says the Kelowna-based artist. “We do have a lot of the princess fairytale type books, and those are great, but it’s nice to have options. And [the child] will identify more with the story because the main character actually looks more like her. Even as an adult when I got my copy in the mail I was like, ‘oh that’s so cool it looks like me!’”