The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box

Happy Perfect Picture Book Friday, a day late! Here’s a fascinating story for all those kids into video games. The seeds of invention always seem to be planted in childhood! 

9781454932598_p0_v4_s550x406Title: The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box: The Story of Video Game Inventor Ralph Baer

Written by: Marcie Wessels

Illustrated by: Beatriz Castro

Sterling, 2020, biography

Suitable for ages: 6-10

Themes/topics: video games, invention, discrimination

On the streets of Cologne, Germany, a boy named Ralph Baer made his own fun.
He rolled hoops on the sidewalk. He raced his scooter. He played stick hockey and biked with his best friend, Herbert.
Ralph played freely until being outside became too dangerous for a Jewish kid like him.

Today, the video game industry keeps growing, with ever more platforms available to fans. But how did the very first system come about? This picture-book biography of Ralph Baer, whose family fled Nazi Germany for the US, introduces kids to a great inventor AND the birth of the first home console. Using wartime technology, Baer thought outside the box and transformed the television into a vehicle for gaming; Baer’s invention, the Odyssey, is a precursor to the Atari gaming system. Today, interactive systems like Wii and PlayStation are descendants of Ralph’s innovative “Brown Box,” making this award-winning inventor the true “Father of Video Games.”

Activities and Resources:
Get out those construction sets! We’ve got so many kinds today. How can you combine them or use the pieces in new ways?

Compare and contrast: Read another book about an inventor. How are the inventors alike and different? What motivated their creations and creativity? What would you like to invent?

What ideas do you have for a video game? What themes would you use? What characters and setting would you use? What would be the object of your game?

Why I like this book:
This is a story of WWII, of discrimination, of immigrants who found their way by working hard to rebuild their lives, and a boy who sought solutions. It’s a story of curiosity, perseverance, resilience, and creativity. I love the imagery of boxes in the story. There are so many ways to understand this idea, how we live in “boxes,” how we box ourselves in, how the people who break new ground have to reach outside the box. And then all the physical boxes—from the box of construction kit pieces in the opening to radios, TVs, and ultimately video games. With so many kids into video games, this is a great story to expand their understanding of how something so popular today came to be.


Visit author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books for a plethora of picture books listed by title and topic/theme, each with teacher/parent activities and resources.

2 thoughts on “The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box

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