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True Story Blog

True Story: Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube

I have never solved a Rubik's Cube. Not once. Yet for some reason I don't view the puzzle with frustration. Maybe it's because I see it as a rainbowed piece of art . . . or a fidget toy before it's time . . . or a flashbulb moment taking me back to the '80s. In any case, I was delighted to learn more about its origin story in Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube, written by Kerry Aradhya and illustrated by Kara Kramer.


A professor of art, architecture, and design, Ernő Rubik was helping his students understand three-dimensional objects and how they move. He wondered...Would it be possible to build a big cube out of smaller cubes that moved around each other and stay connected? He decided to try it.


He failed, again and again, and then—unexpectedly invented the most popular puzzle in history. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the iconic toy and today author Kerry talks about some of the building blocks of her creation, Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube (published by Peachtree Publishers). 


What sparked your interest in Ernő Rubik?

I was buying a Rubik's Cube for a family friend and found myself wondering how the cube had come to be. Of course, being a picture book person, the next question that popped into my head was "Has anyone written a picture book about it?" Once I realized no one had, I began researching and soon discovered that the prototype for the Rubik's Cube had been created the same year I was born. I was hooked! As I dove further into my research, I found Ernő Rubik and his story so fascinating that I knew I wanted to write this book.


Was there one aspect of Ernő Rubik's life—a specific scene, quote, or image—that guided you throughout the writing process?

I came across so many wonderful Ernő Rubik quotes while researching this book. I wrote my favorites down along the way and, when I started drafting the manuscript, used a handful of them as anchors. The quotes were still in the manuscript when it was acquired and later when it was sent to the illustrator, Kara Kramer (who is amazing). Because we were trying to keep the book to 32 pages, most of the quotes had to go in the end. But one—which happens to coincide with a pivotal moment in Ernő Rubik's creative process—made it into the book! 


While researching this book, which fact surprised you the most?

I was most surprised by the fact that Ernő Rubik never set out to "invent" a puzzle. As a professor of architecture at the time, he was simply trying to create a model that he could use to teach his students about three-dimensional movement. He had no idea he had just created what would become the most popular puzzle in the world! 


Why do you think kids can relate to Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube?

I hope that kids will relate to Ernő Rubik's passion, especially kids who may, like Ernő, be quiet, curious, and captivated by the world around them. I think most kids will also relate to Ernő's frustration when his first attempts at creating the cube were unsuccessful. I hope his story—his hard work and determination— will encourage them to keep trying when they encounter challenges in their own lives.


Which sources were invaluable to writing this biography?

Early in my research, I read that Ernő Rubik had written an unpublished manuscript—possibly a memoir—in Hungarian. I wondered how in the world I would get my hands on it, and then how in the world I would even understand it if I did! Much to my delight and good fortune, Ernő Rubik's memoir Cubed: The Puzzle of Us All was published (in English!) before I started drafting my manuscript. Although many sources were valuable to me, this memoir was by far the most important, and special. I don't think I would have been able to connect with Ernő Rubik and his story in the same way, or to the same depth that I did, if his memoir hadn't existed.


How did you select the timeframe for your book? 

It was really Ernő Rubik's creative process that intrigued me from the beginning, so it only made sense for me to end the book with the culmination of this process (although he did go on to tweak his design for the cube before eventually applying for a patent). I began the book with Ernő as a child, though, so that kids could see how influential his childhood passions and personality were to his creative process.


What's your #1 tip for writing true stories?

Children's author Nancy Churnin gave a fabulous webinar (Writing Fact Like Fiction in Narrative Nonfiction PBs) earlier this year for members of Julie Hedlund's 12x12 Picture Book Challenge, during which she mentioned that you need to feel a genuine connection with the person you are writing about and/or the story you are telling. That resonated with me SO much that it is my new #1 tip…both for myself and for others! In looking back at the nonfiction manuscripts I have written so far, I can definitely see a correlation between the strength of a manuscript and the strength of the connection I felt to my subject matter.


If you could pick the ideal place for an Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube storywalk, where would it be?

Oh, that would have to be Budapest, Hungary, where Ernő Rubik has lived his whole life! I would love to see his childhood apartment (where he was still living when he created the cube) and walk from that apartment to the Danube River, like he does in the book—and did in real life. 


What other books would you recommend to readers who love Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube?

Some other picture books about the invention of popular toys are The Crayon Man by Natascha Biebow and Steven Salerno, Whoosh! by Chris Baron and Don Tate, and Pedro's Yo-Yos by Rob Peñas and Carl Angel. Readers who are interested in building with shapes might also enjoy biographies of architects, like The Shape of the World by K. L. Going and Lauren Stringer (about Frank Lloyd Wright) and the new release Mr. Pei's Perfect Shapes by Julie Leung and Yifan Wu (about I. M. Pei). 



I recommend this biography—the perfect gift for young puzzle lovers!—on two shelves in my TrueStory Bookshop:

  • True Stories~Makers
  • True Stories~Teachers

To take a peek inside the book, checkout my Booktok.


Every day is a good day for a true story but here are some special tie-in dates for Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube:

January 29: National Puzzle Day 

Feb 11: National Inventors Day

May: National Inventors Month

June 13: Hungarian Inventors Day

July 13: Rubik Day/Ernő Rubik's Birthday

August 13: International Left Handers Day (Ernő Rubik is a leftie!)


Kerry Aradhya is the author of the picture book biography Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube (Peachtree, 2024) and more than a dozen poems in award-winning children's magazines. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and their cute but naughty pooch named Sofie. 


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