The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box: The Story of Video Game Inventor Ralph Baer

Sterling. Mar. 2020. 48p. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781454932598.
Gr 1-4–Wessels’s picture book biography introduces video game fans to the pioneer behind the technology. Ralph Baer (1922–2014) began tinkering with electronics as a Jewish child surviving in Nazi-controlled Germany. After his family emigrated to the United States in 1938, Baer continued learning, building, and inventing, eventually working for NASA. Baer’s interest in the newly invented television set planted a seed in his mind—what if games could be played on the television itself? The result was the Brown Box, the first home game console later released as the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972. The narrative focuses on Baer’s career trajectory and his inventions, with little attention paid to his personal life. The creator’s effort and commitment to bringing his ideas to fruition is abundant throughout the story, as is the reality of experiencing rejection from critics and disbelievers. Illustrator Castro provides colorful depictions of Baer and his inventions, skillfully representing each era’s clothing, hairstyles, and decor. The book can be a starting point for social studies units involving historical events and specific eras.
VERDICT A gentle introduction to a passionate inventor’s incredible impact on our culture. Young gamers will get a kick out of their beloved systems’ humble beginnings.

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