Usborne 1980s Computer Books

By A.P.P.L.E. Staff
Call-A.P.P.L.E. Magazine
V31N02 Spring 2021

Many kids in the 1980s began programming computers using the Usborne and Usborne Hayes computer books, which were very colorful, step-by-step books that could be considered age appropriate for any age child in reality.

These books took you through the stages of creating programs from the idea creation, the design, the programming, modifications, and quite literally, all the way to the finished product.  These books were quite good at teaching fundamental concepts to users, giving a good groundwork upon which to build.

From initial forays into programming and robotics, there were also advanced books that taught you more of what to do in BASIC as well as individual subject books which took the user and reader into the realm of arcade games, interactive fiction games as well as aspects of graphics, music, models, controllers, and other things that could be done with the computer and related components.

Each book Usborne produced in the 1980s was seemingly another step in the ladder of programming and kids who used the books gained a firm knowledge of the concepts through the repetition of the exercises in the books.   

Primarily written for the inexpensive ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro computers, the programs were simple enough to run on any system for the most part.  Some of the books were specifically written fro the TRS-80 and Apple II as well as other computers.  Books such as Beginners BASIC and Apple Graphics were the two that were best for Apple II users but other such as Computer Space Games provided listings for both the TRS-80 and the Apple II as well as that of the BBC Micro that it was primarily focusing on.   The book even included a nifty little conversion chart that showed kids the difference between the BASIC commands on each system:

What is most amazing about these books are the fact that they teach actual arcade style programming.  The concepts of drawing, un-drawing, moving, firing, destroying, and other parts of the arcade game are shown in the book, Introduction to Computer Programming as well as the books, Computer Battle Games and Computer Space Games.  These three together should be the quintessential repertoire for any teacher who works with young kids who want to learn how to program.

These three books go further than a lot of the college courses taught in the 1980s.  Of course, there were good programming courses, but the practical application aspect was lost on a lot of teachers and professors of the time.

The other realm that Usborne succeeded in was the Interactive Fiction / Adventure game development realm.  They had four books in this area that were actually quite good.  These included:

  • The Mystery of Silver Mountain
  • Island of Secrets
  • Write Your Own Fantasy Games
  • Write Your Own Adventure Games

Each one of these books are standalone books that are filled with great ideas, basic concepts, and functionality concepts that can be applied not just in the adventure games but in other games as well.

What was always most impressive was the high quality and the graphical nature of the books.  Absolutely spot on characters and drawings for each program were created as if it was the job of the book to not only teach programming but also to tell a story to the reader.  Many of the books are written in this style and the stories are actually quite entertaining.

Now in the year 2021, children can still use these books to learn programming as Usborne offers the books in PDF format for people to download for free!  Not all of the original books are available on the site but there is a good selection at:

The Usborne Computer and coding books

Basic Level Books
Introduction to Programming
Computer Games Listings
Adventure Games
First Computer Library

Copyright notice

These pdf copies of the original Usborne Computer Guides published in the 1980s are free to download for your own personal or educational use. The books and files are the copyright of Usborne Publishing. The A.P.P.L.E. Article is copyright A.P.P.L.E. and permission is given to re-print with notification and full attribution, the article in full by user group newsletters around the globe.

Please note

These books were written for 1980s computers such as the Apple II, Commodore 64, VIC 20, Commodore PET, TRS-80, ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro. The programs will not run on modern computers without a heap of changes. For any enquiries about Usborne Books please email them at

Adapting the programs

According to the license which Usborne grants the readers of the books, users may adapt any of the programs in these books to modern computer languages, and share the adaptations freely online. Adaptations for commercial purposes is forbidden. Please be sure to credit the Usborne book title from which the adapted program originated, and provide a link to their webpage.