Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring: The Accidental Invention of the Toy That Swept the Nation, by Gilbert Ford (2016)

Every now and then Your Correspondent comes across a new picture book and the response is simply – gosh, that’s terrific.

I can’t help myself; The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring: The Accidental Invention of the Toy That Swept the Nation, by Gilbert Ford, is simply fantastic.  It has been on our coffee table for several days now, and I’ve been unable to resist it.  People come over, and I show it to them – it’s that delightful.

The story – and it’s true – is simple enough.  It tells the story of engineer Richard James, who creates a new toy, the Slinky, in the 1940s.  He and his wife take out a loan to manufacture a bunch of them, and he manages to sell out his entire stock at a demonstration in Gimbels right before Christmas.

The business continues to grow, and the James’ move from manufacturing Slinkys on their own, to buying a factory and mass producing them.  Following the war, the Slinky became a staple for emerging Baby Boomers – I know, I had one myself.  Mrs. James would eventually run the business herself, moving it into its greatest period of popularity and sales.

For Your Correspondent, one of the great joys was the flood of memories the book inspired.  I remember my older brother William and I ‘walking’ our Slinky down the stairs as soon as we got it, or how my brother Thomas and I would sing the jingle whenever it was on television:

What walks down stairs,
Alone or in pairs,
And makes a slinkity sound?
A spring,
A spring,
A marvelous thing.
Everyone knows it’s Slinky

The text by author/illustrator Gilbert Ford is simple and straightforward.  But where the book really shines is the wonderfully inventive mode of illustration.  Ford created a bunch of cut-out figures and props, and then mixed them with actual miniature props (tables, toys, shelves, etc.) to create dioramas.  These dioramas were then beautifully photographed by Greg Endries (who must share equal accolades for the success of the book) to create the final effect. 

It is this mixture of illustration, diorama and photography that makes the book so beguiling.  The resulting photos are unlike anything you’ve seen in children’s picture books, and are great fun.  The book is great for children, their Generation X parents, and their Baby Boomer grandparents.  Enjoy!

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