A Slinky "walking down" a staircase

(My review of a nonfiction middle grade title, Super Gear, was on Nerdy Book Club earlier this week. You can see it here.)

Chance. Serendipity. Accident. The Marvelous Thing that Came from a Spring: The Accidental Invention of theToy that Swept the Nation shows that the process of creating something new may start with an accident, but requires lots of diligent hard work after that start. Gilbert Ford tells the story of the invention of the toy phenomenon, the Slinky, starting with a naval engineer’s observation of how a torsion spring moved as it fell from a shelf.

But Richard James’ observation that day also required marketing, packaging, and promotion, to say nothing of production. The book shows how James and his wife, Betty, hustled to make a simple spring into a popular toy. The conclusion of the story summarizes:

It took the teamwork of a dreamer and a planner to turn an ordiinary spring…into a truly marvelous thing!

The writing in the book is clear and accessible, and the art is wonderful. Ford made digital illustrations, printed them out, and then used them with found objects to create dioramas, which were then photographed. I found myself lingering on page after page trying to figure out all the layers of the illustration process.

The back  matter tells about ways Slinky has been used in the real world and briefly mentions that Betty eventually took over production of the Slinky (and left me suspecting that there’s more to the story of the James family than is told in this book).

The themes of the book would fit beautifully with a school unit on invention. Books like Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson and the Super-Soaker, The Hole Story of the Doughnut, or Earmuffs for Everyone would be fun to read in company with The Marvelous Thing that Came From a Spring. The book would also pair nicely with Philip Stead’s Ideas are All Around.

The Marvelous Thing that Came from a Spring: The Accidental Invention of theToy that Swept the Nation by Gilbert Ford, photography by Greg Endires. Atheneum: 2016

Children around a globe.




I participate in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at KidLit Frenzy.