Review: Blips on a Screen: How Ralph Baer Invented TV Video Gaming and Launched a Worldwide Obsession

Blips on a Screen: How Ralph Baer Invented TV Video Gaming and Launched a Worldwide Obsession

by Kate Hannigan, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora

Alfred A. Knopf (imprint of Penguin Random House), 2022

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Dena Bach

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“Rudolph ‘Rolf’ Baer loved games.” That is the beginning and the essence of the story of the life Ralph Baer, the inventor of the first video gaming system. He and his sister Ilse had enjoyed a typical childhood in Cologne, Germany, of friends, school, and games. Then when Baer was 10 years old, Hitler came to power and everything changed. He and his family managed to escape Germany weeks before the borders closed, eventually arriving in America, changing the children’s names to the less German sounding Ralph and Jane. 

There Ralph began working in various industries, from a leather factory to radio repair to designing televisions to military electronics. All this job experience combined to give him the knowledge to do what he really loved to do: tinker, invent, play games. While designing equipment for the military, Baer couldn’t let go of an idea he had to make television “more fun.” So he doodled and tinkered and tested, and invented a two-player game unit that played ball. The profitable new industry of gaming was born!

Hannigan’s book outlines the steps that Baer took take his game from idea to creation. With extensive back matter, including a timeline, bibliography and a more detailed "Question & Answer" section, Hannigan writes to inspire the child inventor. Ohora’s loose, boldly colored illustration style adds to the sense of playfulness emphasized in Hannigan’s portrayal of the individuality and creativity of Ralph Baer.

Blips on a Screen is an engaging biography that even a child with little interest in gaming could enjoy reading. But aside from the details in Baer’s early life about the antisemitism and expulsion of Jewish children from school in pre-war Germany, and the Baer family’s escape from the fate of those who stayed, there is little Jewish content in the rest of the narrative. The book is appropriate for the target age but can be enjoyed by older children as well. Even if the Jewish framing is not sufficient for the Sydney Taylor committee, it is an excellent book to inspire children to create and invent.
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Reviewer Dena Bach has a BA in Fine Arts from Brandeis University, a BFA in Illustration from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and an MA/MFA in Children’s Literature and Writing for Children from Simmons University. Surrounded by books, she has worked as an illustrator, a writer, a bookkeeper, a bookseller, and a teacher of children from ages 2 to14. She is comfortable only when there is a large mountain of children’s books on her bedside table.