food, history

Nonfiction Corner: Blips on a Screen/Pizza!

Blips on a Screen: How Ralph Baer Invented TV Video Gaming and Launched a Worldwide Obsession (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Written by Kate Hannigan
Illustrated by Zachariah Ohora

For ages: 4-8
As much as we play video games in contemporary culture, we don’t know the names of many people who laid the foundations for this form of entertainment. Blips on a Screen attempts to remedy this by telling the story of Ralph Baer. Born Rolf Baer in Germany, his family was Jewish and fled the Nazis in 1938, just before the borders were closed, and the horrors of the Holocaust ratcheted up. After a name change to try and assimilate, Ralph grew up with a love of inventing things. Radios were his passion, which led to using those skills as a soldier for the States in World War II. After coming home, Ralph wondered if there was a way to create electronic games, and the growing popularity of television had him thinking. Ralph would eventually make and release the Odyssey, the first home video game console, in 1972. 

This would be an excellent bridge between students who may not have a genuine interest in history but love gaming. They will learn the story of someone responsible for starting the journey to the devices they now enjoy playing. It also highlights how close the horrors of fascism touch on all aspects of our lives. Similar sentiments regarding the marginalized gain traction in America; our children are seen as potential members of their fascist society. It is vital we ensure our kids know what that looks like and why it hurts everyone. The story of Ralph Baer could be the first seed of hope.

Pizza!: A Slice of History ( Viking Books for Young Readers)
Written & Illustrated by Greg Pizzoli 

For ages: 4-8
After reading this book, you will immensely expand your student’s knowledge of pizza. A glasses-wearing rat takes us on a tour of the history and variations of the pizza pie. We see the ancient prototypes of pizza made in Greece and Rome and the magic moment in 19th-century Italy when a chef in Naples made the first authentic pizza. The path of Italian immigration and returning soldiers from the Italian front after WWII shows us how this food made its way to the United States, where multiple regions came up with their own takes. We’re even provided some international spins on the pie, from the cold fish-topped Russian variety to the mayo-heavy Japanese preference.

The art style is perfectly pizza-themed, as author-illustrator Greg Pizzoli relies mainly on green, red, and white. The text never gets too complex and is straight to the point. In that way, it serves as an excellent jumping-off point for extended research. There are plenty more details about the development of pizza to be discovered outside of this book, and it can spark curiosity. Be warned, though; you will likely need to have some pizza on standby, as after reading this one, you will be hungry.

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