The Marvelous Thing that Came from A Spring: The Accidental Invention of the Toy That Swept the Nation tells the story of inventor Richard James, his wife Betty, and the invention of the slinky. As the title suggests, the invention of the slinky was an accident. Richard James worked as an engineer in a shipyard for the United States Navy in 1943. While researching a way to keep fragile ship equipment stable when out at sea, a torsion spring fell into his lap…and an idea was born.
Richard and his wife Betty tested the slinky with their own son, Tom. It fell down the stairs, and as Ford marvelously illustrates with a real lightbulb, the “aha” moment went off in Richard’s head—this simple spring could provide amusement. It could be a toy.
It was Betty who came up with the name Slinky. After two days of reading the dictionary she reached the letter ‘S.’ Slinky: meaning “graceful” and “curvy in movement.” Ford writes,
“‘Slinky’ also sounded like the swish and clink of the spring’s coils in motion.”
Nobody would buy the slinky. In a fantastic illustration spread, Richard James begs the owner of Gimbels, a toy store, to let him demonstrate his new toy. The owner agreed to let James demonstrate how the slinky worked to Christmas shoppers in November 1945. All four-hundred slinkys James had on hand sold out in ninety minutes. It was a success.
The truly marvelous thing about this book are the illustrations. Ford’s style is groundbreaking, blending two-dimensional and three-dimensional elements. A piece of pipe cleaner is the steam spiraling from a coffee cup. On the shelves of Gimbel’s, tiny glass bottles and a sack of sugar can be found, while James and Gimbels are illustrated as paper-cut-outs against the 3-D backdrop. Lawns are made of washrags, and throughout the pages, an observant reader will spot chalkboards, dominos, rulers, and pickup sticks. And of course, a slinky or metal spring can be found on every page. Each illustration spread is a world unto itself, a diorama made with materials both found and made. As such, the effect is that Ford is “inventing” his own illustrations just as James invents the slinky.
The book ends on this line: “It took the teamwork of a dreamer and a planner to turn an ordinary spring into a truly MARVELOUS thing.”
Yes, Ford’s new picture book is indeed marvelous. Combining art, history, and science, this picture book will inspire children to see the world in a new way, to pick up their own toys and find new ways to play.
READ THE INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR GILBERT FORD!