The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring: The Accidental Invention of the Toy That Swept the Nation
By Gilbert Ford
Atheneum (Simon & Schuster)
Out September 13, 2016
If you think about it, there are some comparisons to be drawn between the Slinky and picture books in general. Both are deceptively simple, but must be precisely calibrated to work properly (pointing out the obvious here, but it bears mentioning, a Slinky contains basically ONE PART). And both can jump to life, performing something akin to magic – but only when someone does their part and picks them up. In his nonfiction picture book debut, Gilbert Ford creates a bit of magic, telling the story of this iconic toy in a completely engaging way.
Richard James was a dreamer.
While working as an engineer for the U.S. Navy in 1943, James knocked a torsion spring off his shelf.
Its coils took a walk . . . and so did Richard’s imagination.
He thought it could be a toy – but what to name it? James’s wife Betty got to work, finally striking gold with “slinky”. James got a loan and had a batch produced. But a toy isn’t a toy unless there are kids to play with it. James hit the bricks, shopping his invention to every toy store in Philadelphia. They all turned him down. But after pleading with Gimbel’s department store, he caught a break – an opportunity to demonstrate the Slinky in-store for holiday shoppers. On the big day, James let his invention loose – the Slinky sold out in 90 minutes. His invention would soon be known the world over.
To a certain extent, a nonfiction tale can only be as good as the material the author is working with. The story of the Slinky? Solid material. But Gilbert does his job well, drawing out the excitement and drama surrounding James’s invention. This is no easy task. The text is excellent – straightforward yet full of wonder and suspense. Back matter includes an author’s note and bibliography.
The inventive artwork make this book truly stand out. The illustration note states that the art was “drawn and colored digitally and then printed, assembled with found objects into dioramas, and photographed.” The three-dimensional style is a perfect match for the subject of the book – a toy that seemingly comes alive and moves. The retro look pairs well with the mid-century time period.
Most picture books would be lucky to nail one dramatic two-page spread – this book does it twice. First when young Tom James tries out the at-that-point-unnamed spring on the home stairs (as shown on the cover), and second when Richard James demonstrates the toy at Gimbels for the holiday shoppers. Both fall after dramatic page turns that will have readers on the edge of their carpet squares.
Slinkys and picture books – not so different. Which means a picture book ABOUT the Slinky makes perfect sense. But the trick is in the execution, and The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring is well-crafted from start to finish.
Review copy from the publisher.
Show this video after you read the book: