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

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

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Meg Wiviott

A picture book biography that traces the life of Ralph Baer from his childhood in Cologne, Germany to his adult life in New York where he becomes the “Father of Video Games.” But such a journey is never easy. Once he is forbidden from attending school because he is Jewish, Ralph is determined to learn English, which helps his family escape Nazi Germany in 1938. His childhood fascination with gears and construction, and the emergence of radio and television sets him on a path towards electrotonic engineering. Long before anyone thinks of using a television for playing a game, Ralph and a team of engineers build the first TV game system. Unfortunately, no company wants to support it. Ralph never gives up. Magnavox’s Odyssey is the first game system sold in 1972, “forever chang[ing] the way we play.”

The Boy Who thought Outside the Box is a gallant effort to tell the little-known biography of the man who invented gaming. It is proof of the persistence, creativity, and audacity needed to leave one life and begin again in a new country.

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Reviewer Meg Wiviott is the author of the YA novel in verse PAPER HEARTS, which received a 2016 Christopher Award. Her picture book, BENNO AND THE NIGHT OF BROKEN GLASS, was selected as one of SLJ’s Best Picture Books of 2010 and made CCBC’s Best Choice List. She holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.


  1. Ms. Wiviott,

    Thank you for recognition of the the book The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box. You have hit directly upon one of the most compelling points of the book and one which - while relevant to hundreds of millions of Americans both alive today and past - has been overlooked, under appreciated and sometimes simply (and unfortunately) dismissed; to wit, that we are truly fortunate to be in this country of opportunity. It is quite clear to me that even if Ralph had survived the war and remained in Germany he would never have had the time, place and manner that was afforded him (which he obviously put to great use through his own ingenuity and hard work) that allowed him to achieve what he did and create the system that was, and is, the start of the modern video game universe as we know it. And, to put an even bigger point on it, Ralph had one 150 US and foreign patents and his seminal work spanned such creativity as interactive, impulse purchasing (at that point by and through the television) to the still popular electronic game of Simon. This could only happen in a place where creativity and pressing forward are the order of the day, which is gratefully where we find ourselves and one hopes that that lesson is not lost on the readers of this terrific book.

    - Mark W. Baer
    Trustee of the Ralph H. Baer Trust


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