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The Marvelous Thing That Came from a Spring: The Accidental Invention of the Toy That Swept the Nation

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With magnificent dioramic illustrations, Gilbert Ford captures the joy, creativity, and determination behind the invention of an iconic, one-of-a-kind toy: the Slinky! One day, a spring fell from the desk of Richard James, an engineer and a dreamer. Its coils took a walk…and so did Richard’s imagination. He knew right away that he had stumbled onto something marvelous. With With magnificent dioramic illustrations, Gilbert Ford captures the joy, creativity, and determination behind the invention of an iconic, one-of-a-kind toy: the Slinky! One day, a spring fell from the desk of Richard James, an engineer and a dreamer. Its coils took a walk…and so did Richard’s imagination. He knew right away that he had stumbled onto something marvelous. With the help of his wife, Betty, Richard took this ordinary spring and turned it into a plaything. But it wasn’t just any old trinket—it was a Slinky, and it would become one of the most popular toys in American history.


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With magnificent dioramic illustrations, Gilbert Ford captures the joy, creativity, and determination behind the invention of an iconic, one-of-a-kind toy: the Slinky! One day, a spring fell from the desk of Richard James, an engineer and a dreamer. Its coils took a walk…and so did Richard’s imagination. He knew right away that he had stumbled onto something marvelous. With With magnificent dioramic illustrations, Gilbert Ford captures the joy, creativity, and determination behind the invention of an iconic, one-of-a-kind toy: the Slinky! One day, a spring fell from the desk of Richard James, an engineer and a dreamer. Its coils took a walk…and so did Richard’s imagination. He knew right away that he had stumbled onto something marvelous. With the help of his wife, Betty, Richard took this ordinary spring and turned it into a plaything. But it wasn’t just any old trinket—it was a Slinky, and it would become one of the most popular toys in American history.

30 review for The Marvelous Thing That Came from a Spring: The Accidental Invention of the Toy That Swept the Nation

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sheri

    Richard and Betty James worked together to make their dream of promoting a simple yet fascinating toy a reality. And to think, it was accidentally discovered after it simply fell from a shelf. It goes to show that you just never know when you're going to invent the next hot toy! Richard and Betty James worked together to make their dream of promoting a simple yet fascinating toy a reality. And to think, it was accidentally discovered after it simply fell from a shelf. It goes to show that you just never know when you're going to invent the next hot toy!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lisa (not getting friends updates) Vegan

    I was eager to read this book because I remember my first Slinky and what a novelty it was and how much fun it was to play with it. I’d thought it was a fairly brand new toy when I got mine (in 1958-1960?) but I found out from this book that it had actually been around for quite a while. I did know something about its development, how it was serendipity that led to its invention. This author-illustrator has impressive credentials for both writing and illustrating, and I did like both here, but I I was eager to read this book because I remember my first Slinky and what a novelty it was and how much fun it was to play with it. I’d thought it was a fairly brand new toy when I got mine (in 1958-1960?) but I found out from this book that it had actually been around for quite a while. I did know something about its development, how it was serendipity that led to its invention. This author-illustrator has impressive credentials for both writing and illustrating, and I did like both here, but I wanted to love the book even more than I did. I love how it shows how a thought can be so creative and how the inventor’s wife and son participated in bringing the idea to fruition and to great success. It’s a lovely family story. This picture book is full of information and seems more text heavy than it actually is, and I think it’s best for independent readers or group read alouds. Having a slinky or slinkys around to play with around the time of reading this book is highly recommended. This book is likely to most appeal to adults and children who’ve played with slinkys and have enjoyed them. Toy = 4-1/2 stars, Book = 3-1/2 stars Fun thing to read on the last day of the year, in a year that had many NOT fun things about it!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Idarah

    I really enjoyed this non-fiction children’s book with its quirky mixed-media illustrations! The invention of the Slinky in 1945 took The US by storm, and every kid had to have one. Great to learn about how it was invented. I really enjoyed this non-fiction children’s book with its quirky mixed-media illustrations! The invention of the Slinky in 1945 took The US by storm, and every kid had to have one. Great to learn about how it was invented.

  4. 5 out of 5

    La Coccinelle

    Great. Now I have the Slinky song stuck in my head. This is a fun little biography about 1945's popular toy and the couple who invented it. Richard James came up with the idea after seeing a torsion spring fall from a shelf, but it was his wife, Betty, who helped turn the idea into a marketable product. (She also apparently saved the floundering business while her husband went off to Bolivia to do missionary work in the 1960s.) The pictures in this book are interesting to look at. Composed of illu Great. Now I have the Slinky song stuck in my head. This is a fun little biography about 1945's popular toy and the couple who invented it. Richard James came up with the idea after seeing a torsion spring fall from a shelf, but it was his wife, Betty, who helped turn the idea into a marketable product. (She also apparently saved the floundering business while her husband went off to Bolivia to do missionary work in the 1960s.) The pictures in this book are interesting to look at. Composed of illustrated cutouts that have been photographed with various objects in a 3D setting, the pictures give the book a really unique aesthetic that's at once both modern and retro. I enjoyed learning about this toy. Of course, I've heard of the Slinky, and I even had one when I was a kid. But I never really knew how it was discovered or developed. Thanks to this book, now I do. Quotable moment:

  5. 5 out of 5

    Abigail

    Working for the Navy during World War II, engineer Richard James accidentally discovered the amazing properties of a torsion spring, when one fell off of his shelf. Bringing this new spring home, James partnered with his wife Betty to invent a new toy with it. Although convinced that the Slinky was the next big thing, the James had trouble convincing any stores to carry it. Then, after much pleading, the Gimbels department store agreed to stock a few for the Christmas rush of 1945. Four hundred Working for the Navy during World War II, engineer Richard James accidentally discovered the amazing properties of a torsion spring, when one fell off of his shelf. Bringing this new spring home, James partnered with his wife Betty to invent a new toy with it. Although convinced that the Slinky was the next big thing, the James had trouble convincing any stores to carry it. Then, after much pleading, the Gimbels department store agreed to stock a few for the Christmas rush of 1945. Four hundred Slinkys sold in ninety minutes, marking the debut of one of the 20th century's most popular new toys... An engaging look at the creation of a popular American toy, The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring is also an immensely engaging book visually speaking. The illustrations, drawn and colored digitally, before being printed out and combined with found objects in dioramas, are bright and entertaining, capturing the themes of ingenuity and discovery that are highlighted in the story. Some of the scenes, particularly those involving boxes of some sort (the store with its shelves, the James' home in profile), reminded me of the work of Joseph Cornell, which is high praise indeed! An informative afterword gives more information about the Slinky, and the many uses it has been put to - as an antenna for radios, as a device to explain wave mechanics, as a therapy tool - as well as Betty James' central role in bringing the Slinky to a wider audience. I particularly appreciated that last, and the way that Gilbert Ford highlights the importance of both dreaming and planning in the creation of new things. Recommended to anyone looking for fun children's books about inventors and inventions.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kifflie

    The more I look at this book, the more I like its cartoony, retro feel. I think it really suits the subject matter. This is the story of how the Slinky was invented, based upon a workshop "accident." But the narrative doesn't stop there; it goes into how the Jameses tried to persuade stores to give their toy a chance, until Gimbels finally gave them their big debut. And the rest is history. It's nice that Betty James gets equal credit for running the business end of this very successful toy. The more I look at this book, the more I like its cartoony, retro feel. I think it really suits the subject matter. This is the story of how the Slinky was invented, based upon a workshop "accident." But the narrative doesn't stop there; it goes into how the Jameses tried to persuade stores to give their toy a chance, until Gimbels finally gave them their big debut. And the rest is history. It's nice that Betty James gets equal credit for running the business end of this very successful toy.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    This is a children's picture book outlining the history of the Slinky. Short but very interesting! This is a children's picture book outlining the history of the Slinky. Short but very interesting!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Turrean

    Clever illustrations combine photos of real objects with colored pencil sketches. This is a fascinating story, not only because I’ve played with a slinky (who hasn’t?!) but because the author shows it took a team (the inventor who came up with the original notion, and the visionary planner who made the slinky happen and successfully brought the toy to market) to be successful.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    My students were fascinated to learn about the invention of the Slinky!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    First sentence: Richard James was a dreamer. But in 1943 the United States was at war. Richard had so support his country and his family, so he worked as an engineer for the United States Navy in a shipyard in Philadelphia. Premise/plot: While trying to invent something that would "keep fragile ship equipment from vibrating in choppy seas," Richard was inspired by a falling torsion spring that fell from above his desk and started walking across it. He was so excited, he took it home to show his w First sentence: Richard James was a dreamer. But in 1943 the United States was at war. Richard had so support his country and his family, so he worked as an engineer for the United States Navy in a shipyard in Philadelphia. Premise/plot: While trying to invent something that would "keep fragile ship equipment from vibrating in choppy seas," Richard was inspired by a falling torsion spring that fell from above his desk and started walking across it. He was so excited, he took it home to show his wife and son. Was it a new toy? He thought it might be. Betty, his wife, named it SLINKY. Together they would try to make a go of it. They borrowed $500.00, made 400 of them, and then tried to get the Slinky into local stores.... My thoughts: I really liked this one. Did it answer ALL my questions about the toy, about its creators, about its success? Probably not. But should it have to be packed with enough information to satisfy adults when the book was meant to be a picture book for children? I think the story is a fun one. It really made me want to look up Slinky commercials on YouTube. Text: 4 out of 5 Illustrations: 3 out of 5 Total: 7 out of 10

  11. 4 out of 5

    Krista Brock

    I really appreciate children’s books that present historical people or events. However, if they’re not done right, they can easily lose a child’s interest. This one is wonderful. It’s the history of a toy that’s still fun and relevant today: the slinky. (We have been known to send our slinky down several flights of stairs in our apartment stairway when no one is around!) The illustrations are wonderful. The story is captivating and fun, but it doesn’t shy away from referencing the historical era I really appreciate children’s books that present historical people or events. However, if they’re not done right, they can easily lose a child’s interest. This one is wonderful. It’s the history of a toy that’s still fun and relevant today: the slinky. (We have been known to send our slinky down several flights of stairs in our apartment stairway when no one is around!) The illustrations are wonderful. The story is captivating and fun, but it doesn’t shy away from referencing the historical era in which the slinky was created. I also appreciate that it doesn’t shy away from some more advanced vocabulary, such as “profits.” This will be a great slow read with some intermissions to answer questions from curious children. It’s a fun read for children and parents.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Abby Johnson

    Did you know that the slinky was invented by accident as engineer Richard James worked on a way to stabilize ship equipment for the Navy? Slinkies are still bought and played with today and this nonfiction picture book about their invention is sure to be a hit with toy lovers and future inventors. The illustrations are neat - mixed-media 3D creations using items like springs, toothpicks, pipe cleaners, yarn, and actual lit lightbulbs to create the scenes. These mixed media illustrations fit perf Did you know that the slinky was invented by accident as engineer Richard James worked on a way to stabilize ship equipment for the Navy? Slinkies are still bought and played with today and this nonfiction picture book about their invention is sure to be a hit with toy lovers and future inventors. The illustrations are neat - mixed-media 3D creations using items like springs, toothpicks, pipe cleaners, yarn, and actual lit lightbulbs to create the scenes. These mixed media illustrations fit perfectly with the subject matter in which an object was used in a creatively different way to create a super popular toy. One bit that bugged me a little bit is that, while it's clear that the idea for the Slinky was Richard's, his wife Betty's contributions are maybe downplayed a little bit. The author's note explains that after Richard left the country in 1960, their business almost went bust until Betty took it over and saved the Slinky. Betty James was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame, but this info doesn't appear in the book's text proper, just in the author's note. To be clear, Betty is in the narrative - she's shown naming the Slinky and helping the business run - I just wish that the last bit (maybe the most impressive - Betty ran the company as a woman in the 1960s while raising six children (according to Wikipedia)) was included in the narrative proper.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    "What box downstairs, alone or in pairs, and makes a slinkity sound? " The story of the invention of the slinky brought back fond memories for me!! Loved it. "What box downstairs, alone or in pairs, and makes a slinkity sound? " The story of the invention of the slinky brought back fond memories for me!! Loved it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Donalyn

    While the text provides interesting information about the invention of the Slinky, what I loved most was the illustrations made from paper cutouts and objects in 3-D tableaux.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Heydi Smith

    Fantastic book about the slinky and how it came to be. The illustrations are phenomenal making this book a must read!!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    Just the perfect amount of information to excite kids about a familiar invention -- the Slinky -- without overwhelming them with facts!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Maegan Miller

    "This book is a trip down memory lane." In the book, "The Marvelous Thing That Came from a Spring" by Gilbert Ford I learned about how the toy slinky really came to life through an "accidental invention". I feel that throughout this book the author's purpose was to not only entertain us with amazing illustrations and creative text, but to behinds the scene intentionality inform us about how the slinky came to be. I do feel that the vocabulary is a little arduous for young readers. I would recomm "This book is a trip down memory lane." In the book, "The Marvelous Thing That Came from a Spring" by Gilbert Ford I learned about how the toy slinky really came to life through an "accidental invention". I feel that throughout this book the author's purpose was to not only entertain us with amazing illustrations and creative text, but to behinds the scene intentionality inform us about how the slinky came to be. I do feel that the vocabulary is a little arduous for young readers. I would recommend this books for 2nd (high readers) - 3rd grade for individual reading. For read aloud it is perfect for K-3rd. This is book is worth the read because the author really ties in his audience with the idea of how anything can be turned into something fun! This is an attention getter through the illustrations in the book. I would recommend this for any classroom teacher or school library. Although, the ideas in the book can be little difficult for young readers and will need to be talked about, I strongly feel that this would be a fun non-fiction book for kids.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mariah

    The Marvelous Thing That Came from a Spring By: Gilbert Ford Illustrated by Greg Endries  Richard James was an engineer in the US Navy. In 1943 while the US was at war, it was his mission to invent a device that would keep the fragile equipment from vibrating in a choppy sea. Richard was determined to invent something that would work but he was stumped. One day when he was hard at work, a torsion spring fell from his shelf. It mimics a walking action, Richard started to think about how this spring The Marvelous Thing That Came from a Spring By: Gilbert Ford Illustrated by Greg Endries  Richard James was an engineer in the US Navy. In 1943 while the US was at war, it was his mission to invent a device that would keep the fragile equipment from vibrating in a choppy sea. Richard was determined to invent something that would work but he was stumped. One day when he was hard at work, a torsion spring fell from his shelf. It mimics a walking action, Richard started to think about how this spring could be used as a toy. He showed his wife and son, his son, Tom played with the spring for hours. This was the invention of the common toy the slinky! I would recommend this book for elementary children K-2nd grade because they all either play or use to play with a slinky. They would find this book fun!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Martha

    The slinky was a favorite toy for kids from the sixties. It is a thrill to read this upbeat narrative non-fiction story about Philadelphian Richard James and his accidental slinky invention. The cartoon like whimsical illustrations bring this book to life. I predict it will help spawn a whole new generation of creative slinky enthusiast, a perfect toy for stem related activities. The author's note in the back of the book gives a detailed account of the history of the slinky, for research project The slinky was a favorite toy for kids from the sixties. It is a thrill to read this upbeat narrative non-fiction story about Philadelphian Richard James and his accidental slinky invention. The cartoon like whimsical illustrations bring this book to life. I predict it will help spawn a whole new generation of creative slinky enthusiast, a perfect toy for stem related activities. The author's note in the back of the book gives a detailed account of the history of the slinky, for research projects. A great choice for all elementary libraries, especially since there is little written about toymaker Richard James and his entrepreneurial wife.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Brandi Kutz

    IL: LG - BL: 4.2 - AR Pts: 0.5 Who hasn't received a Slinky at some point in their young lives? Well, now you can read the story of how it all came to be in this nifty picture book! Richard James was an engineer for the U.S. Navy and he was trying to make a device that would keep fragile ship equipment safe on choppy seas. Clearly, the Slinky (if you've ever owned one) would not be able to do that. But it did make a darn good toy! If you ever wanted to learn a bit about slinkys, kiddos, check th IL: LG - BL: 4.2 - AR Pts: 0.5 Who hasn't received a Slinky at some point in their young lives? Well, now you can read the story of how it all came to be in this nifty picture book! Richard James was an engineer for the U.S. Navy and he was trying to make a device that would keep fragile ship equipment safe on choppy seas. Clearly, the Slinky (if you've ever owned one) would not be able to do that. But it did make a darn good toy! If you ever wanted to learn a bit about slinkys, kiddos, check this out!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jillian Heise

    Fascinating, both in story of the invention of the Slinky, and in the illustration style with cut-paper, 3-D objects, and photographed scenes. Both will gives kids things to pour over and inspiration for creating on their own. Would like to have known more in the back matter on what happened after the fact - like why was his wife inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame and not the guy who originally invented it? This is a great picture book to add to STEAM collections.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    Interesting background to a toy which has persistently been a childhood [and adult] favourite for over 70 years, which could have disappeared in 1960. See the discussion [or various websites] about why Richard was not inducted into the Hall of Fame! Tricky adult concerns are mainly left out! Illustrative technique is like looking at a diorama made from paper cutouts and miniature objects and reflects the post war early 1950s period.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Becky B

    The story of how Richard James invented the slinky and a machine to manufacture them, and his wife Betty James helped him come up with a name and manage the business. This was an interesting history behind a toy most people now will recognize. It makes me want to go find a slinky to walk down the stairs. A good book for classes studying history of everyday items, business stories, and those just looking for a captivating nonfiction story.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    Does knowing how something works make it any less magical? Not for me and the Slinky! I can still hear the sound of the springs twonging down the stairs in my childhood home, the feel of the cool circles in the palm of my hand as I pushed the coils up and down shifting the weight from one hand to another, and, the anguish of the fatal, inevitable tangle...

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Eckert

    This is a nonfiction book about the accidental (as they so often are) invention of the toy The Slinky. The story is engaging and fast-paced, but the illustrations are what really set this book apart. They are so whimsical, with a mixed use of printed digital illustrations set into dioramas with found objects. They look 3 dimensional and are just a joy to peruse for details.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bethe

    Intriguing combo of real objects and painted illustrations in different media reflect the 1940s when the idea of the slinky was born. Author's note give more background information on the toy's invention, but it left me wondering what had happened to the inventor, Mr. James, after he left to do missionary work. Intriguing combo of real objects and painted illustrations in different media reflect the 1940s when the idea of the slinky was born. Author's note give more background information on the toy's invention, but it left me wondering what had happened to the inventor, Mr. James, after he left to do missionary work.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    The illustrations have a terrific retro look to them and bring a liveliness to the book that matches the toy! Interesting text too, making this a fun and informative book. As an adult I'm now really interested in learning more about Betty James! Reading between the lines of the book indicates there is quite a story there. The illustrations have a terrific retro look to them and bring a liveliness to the book that matches the toy! Interesting text too, making this a fun and informative book. As an adult I'm now really interested in learning more about Betty James! Reading between the lines of the book indicates there is quite a story there.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Brooke

    The students were not expecting this to be nonfiction. It was fun to watch them realize that the book was the story of the Slinky. After reading it to them I played the episode of Reading Rainbow with the story Galimoto so that they could see what could be done with wire. This book is great for introducing bibliographies as it has an example at the back.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth S

    The story would be more exciting if there was more involved in the development of the slinky. The real lesson in the book is what is involved after the toy-idea is created. How do you convince people to sell it and buy it? How do you make the toy fast enough to meet demand? The best part of the story is the teamwork of the husband and wife.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Debra McCracken

    Both art and the story were so fun! Something else I knew nothing about. The recent emphasis and STEM and Common Core has brought forth a plethora of really great juvenile non-fiction. Kids and adults would really enjoy this book. Who hasn't, at some point, owned and/or played with a Slinky? Both art and the story were so fun! Something else I knew nothing about. The recent emphasis and STEM and Common Core has brought forth a plethora of really great juvenile non-fiction. Kids and adults would really enjoy this book. Who hasn't, at some point, owned and/or played with a Slinky?

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