The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box: The Story of Video Game Inventor Ralph Baer by Marcie Wessels, illustrated by Beatriz Castro

The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box: The Story of Video Game Inventor Ralph Baer
by Marcie Wessels
illustrated by Beatriz Castro

With The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box, Wessels introduces readers to the amazing life and inventions of the unstoppable Ralph Baer, the man widely acknowledged as the "Father of Home Video Games." The task of taking the events of a life as rich with accomplishments and as long as Baer's (Baer died in 2014 at the age of ninety-two) and refining it into a thirty-two page picture book is an ominous one, but Wessels' creative use of the "think outside of the box" metaphor works perfectly to streamline events and remind readers of Baer's perseverance and imagination.

Born in Germany in 1922, Baer became an autodidact when was kicked out of school at the age of fourteen because he was Jewish. He taught himself English and helped his family secure the visas that allowed them to immigrate to New York. As a teen, Baer learned to repair radios, and, after being drafted into the Army during WWII, he enrolled in the American Television Institute of Technology and was able to build a TV set from scratch after just one semester. Working in a lab designing televisions after graduating, Ralph first conceived of the idea to use the TV to play games on in 1951. It would be another twenty years (and work for NASA that included spy equipment, a display console for the Saturn V rocket and a radio transmitter that Neil Armstrong took to the moon) before Baer saw his Brown Box hit the market as the Odyssey, the world's first gaming system! With every obstacle he had to overcome, to every new idea and innovation he brought to life, the theme of thinking outside the box, and literal boxes, abound. As Baer learned to "put electronics into smaller and smaller spaces," he was able to fully realize, or, as Wessels writes, "unbox his original gaming idea" using an external box to control the TV to play games.
Wessels includes an author's note that expands on Baer's many accomplishments as well as a list of additional reading, which is good because her book left me wanting to know more! If are like me and left wanting to know more about the Father of Home Video Games (also the inventor of one of my childhood favorites -SIMON!) this NPR obituary, which is where I learned that, in the 20 years after the Odyssey debuted, maker Magnavox won over $100 million in patent lawsuits, including $700,000 from Atari, who debuted Pong mere months after Baer's version hit the market. Baer held more than 150 U.S. and foreign patents and a prototype of the Brown Box and his workbench can be found in the Smithsonian Museum.

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