May 18


Who Invented TV Video Gaming? And Will His Story Inspire My Kid to Read? by Kate Hannigan

How do I make my reluctant reader pick up a book? Write about his favorite thing: gaming.

When I visit schools, I often tell students that most books are written to answer a single question. And while I’d like to say that my newest picture book biography Blips on a Screen: How Ralph Baer Invented TV Video Gaming and Launched a Worldwide Obsession (Knopf, May 3) began with the question, Who came up with video gaming?, it didn’t.

The actual question I was trying to answer was, What will inspire my sonny boy to read?

In an effort to meet my kids where they are, I dove deep into gaming history and how far we’ve come, and what it was like at the very beginning. The short answer: it started with a single blip on a screen. The book looks at Ralph Baer’s journey as an inventor and gaming’s journey from blip to the Brown Box. It’s gorgeously illustrated by the talented Zachariah OHora. And for a laugh, be sure to take off the book jacket and see what Zach did with the hardback cover!

Comment below for a chance to win a signed copy of Blips on a Screen!

Ralph Baer was the inventor who made that blip happen—and more blips soon after. (Many people think he came up with the electronic ping-pong game Pong, but actually his TV video games came first and then Atari took off with what became Pong, their version for arcade games.) He was a Jewish refugee whose family was forced to flee Nazi Germany, eventually settling in America. For Ralph, I imagine his childhood ended then. He started working in a factory in New York and quickly showed he had an inventor’s mind.

Something refugees face when they leave everything behind is that their past often becomes erased. When schools and towns are destroyed, so are personal records like school transcripts and legal certificates. Ralph found that American colleges wouldn’t let him in without proper records, so he was forced to make his way down other paths.

He learned skills in radio repair, and after serving for America in the war, he learned about a fascinating new medium called television. But Ralph thought passively watching a TV show was too boring. He wanted to make it more interactive.

As I researched Ralph Baer’s life, I found his story fascinating. Someone who had seen firsthand how cruel life could be—many of his relatives perished in the Holocaust—spent his days trying to make things a little more fun. He held patents for over a hundred inventions, including the popular game Simon, but his little idea for a game box that would do “neat things” changed everything. It’s estimated that nearly 3 billion people play video games around the world today.

I love to share stories about historical figures and times with young people because they’re all about the promise of what one person can do—seeing the things that shaped that person before their big moment and reflecting on how they changed the status quo. And for young readers, there’s the promise of what amazing things they will do in their lives.

I hope when young readers pick up Blips, they might be inspired to follow in Ralph Baer’s footsteps and try to imagine themselves developing the next great life-changing invention. And when they do become revolutionary inventors, maybe they’ll say it all started with a book!


Kate Hannigan writes fiction and nonfiction for young readers. Along with Blips on a Screen, her nonfiction picture book Nellie vs. Elizabeth: Two Daredevil Journalists’ Breakneck Race Around the World also published this year. Her most recent fiction is the historical fantasy series The League of Secret Heroes. Visit her at