January 9 – It’s International Creativity Month

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About the Holiday

There’s no better time than the beginning of the year to start letting your creative juices flow! Quick fixes or long-leisurely projects are all within your grasp! Want to repaint a room? Build a tree house in the spring? Learn some new recipes? Discover a new hobby? Start planning today how you will accomplish the inventive inspirations that swirl through your imagination.

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

By Gilbert Ford

 

In 1943, during World War II, the United States Navy asked one of their engineers, Richard James, to “invent a device that would keep fragile ship equipment from vibrating in choppy seas.” Richard tried all kinds of springs, but none worked just right. “One day a torsion spring fell from a shelf onto his desk, and “its coils took a walk…” This sparked Richard’s imagination. While Richard knew the spring wasn’t right for his Navy work, he recognized that it might be perfect for something else. But what?

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Copyright Gilbert Ford, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

He took the spring home from work that day, showed it to his wife Betty, and gave it to his young son Tom. Tom took it to the top of the stairs and let it go. “The family watched in astonishment as it…walked all the way down!” They lost no time in realizing that this spring made a marvelous toy. But what to call it? “Betty thumbed through a dictionary for two days, underlining words. None really caught her fancy, until she came to ‘slinky,’ which means “‘graceful’ and ‘curvy in movement.’” It also “sounded like the swish and clink of the spring’s coils in motion.”

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Copyright Gilbert Ford, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Richard and Betty thought they had a unique hit on their hands, so Richard went to the bank and borrowed five-hundred dollars to make 400 Slinkys. But while Richard and Betty loved their Slinky, toy store managers did not. Finally, Richard went to Gimbels, the big department store. The manager there didn’t see the merits of the Slinky either, but when Richard begged to be allowed to demonstrate it just once, he relented.

It was now November 1945 and the Christmas shoppers were out looking for stocking stuffers. Richard set up a ramp in the middle of the toy department and placed the Slinky at the top. He looked around for Betty, but she was nowhere to be seen. In fact, Betty was still at home worried that no one would like their toy. She was so concerned that she convinced a friend to “pose as an excited shopper” and buy one with the dollar Betty gave her. At Gimbels, however, time—and shoppers—were passing, so Richard let go of the Slinky. The astonished faces of the children and adults crowded around the ramp said it all. By the time Betty and her friend reached Gimbels, all 400 Slinkys had been sold—in only 90 minutes!

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Copyright Gilbert Ford, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

With the end of the war that same year, troops returned home and a baby boom soon followed. “Demand for the Slinky skyrocketed.” Production needed to speed up, so Richard devised a “machine that could coil eighty feet of steel wire into a Slinky in ten seconds.” The Slinky business became a family business with Betty filling orders and doing the accounting while Richard made and delivered Slinkys. Pretty soon they needed a factory to satisfy demand. That demand still exists today as kids all over the world love the Slinky.

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Copyright Gilbert Ford, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

An extended Author’s Note picks up the story of the Slinky where the text leaves off, revealing other creative ways the Slinky has been used and the fact that when Richard went to Bolivia in 1960 to do missionary work, Betty took over the business, relocated the factory to Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, and gave the toy a rebirth in popularity. More than 250 million Slinkys have been produced, and in 2001 Betty was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame.

Gilbert Ford’s Slinky-ography of the man and woman behind one of the world’s most beloved toys is a skip, jump, and bounce through the ingenious brainstorm that transposed a simple spring into a phenomenon. The down-to-earth details of how this invention came to be harken back to a simpler time but also reaffirm that even today there are dreamers sitting in homes across the world imagining the next big thing. Ford’s story is well paced, leading readers through the production process to experience cheerful surprise when the Slinkys sell out at Gimbels. Kids will appreciate the easy-going language that suits its subject perfectly and the emphasis on the teamwork of both Richard and Betty James that made the Slinky possible.

Ford’s illustrations are ingenious in themselves. Careful observation reveals that each page is not merely a drawing, but a 3D experience. As the front matter explains, the illustrations were drawn and colored then printed, assembled into dioramas that incorporate found objects and other popular toys of the period, such as dominoes, jacks, and pick-up sticks, and finally photographed. The effect drops readers into the middle of a 1940s home and department store, giving them a personal stake in the drama.

The Marvelous Thing That Came from a Spring is a fun book for would-be-inventors and kids interested in the history of objects they use and play with.

Ages 4 – 8

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster, 2016 | ISBN 978-1481450652

Discover a portfolio of work by Gilbert Ford for books, book jackets, advertising, and more on his website!

International Creativity Month Activity

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National Archives Coloring Book of Patents

 

The people at the National Archives of the United States in Washington DC chose some of their favorite patents from the past to share with you as a coloring book. As you have fun coloring these pages of ideas, let yours fly too!

Click here to get your printable National Archives Coloring Book of Patents

Picture Book Review

October 22 – Smart is Cool Day

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About the Holiday

There are many ways to be smart—and they are all very cool! The world needs people who can think differently about all issues to solve problems, create art and literature that reflects our times and present alternate viewpoints, and just to make life funnier, more poignant, more beautiful,more  livable. Today, celebrate your particular way of being smart and share it with others!

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein

Written by Jennifer Berne | Illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky

 

More than 100 years ago on a windy March day, a baby boy was born—Albert was his name. Albert turned one without saying a word. When Albert had his second birthday, he still hadn’t said a word. By the age of three Albert had only said a few words. “He just looked around with his big, curious eyes. Looked and wondered. Looked and wondered.” Albert’s parents were a bit worried because he was so different from other kids. But “they loved him…no matter what.”

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Image copyright Vladimir Radunsky, courtesy of chroniclebooks.com

Once when Albert was sick, his father brought him a compass. As he watched the needle automatically spin to point north, “Albert was so amazed his body trembled. Suddenly he knew there were mysteries in the world—hidden and silent, unknown and unseen.” Albert began asking questions wherever he went. His teachers told him he was a “distraction” and that “he would never amount to anything if he didn’t behave like all the other students.” But Albert didn’t want to be like other kids.

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Image copyright Vladimir Radunsky, courtesy of chroniclebooks.com

While on his bicycle one afternoon, Albert wondered what it would be like to ride a beam of sunlight. He was excited by this idea and it filled him with questions. He began to study light and sound, heat, magnetism, and gravity. He also read about numbers, which to him were like a secret language. Still, Albert had many more questions. After college he wanted to teach the subjects he loved, but he couldn’t find a job.

Instead, he went to work for the government. His job left him a lot of time to ponder his questions. He watched sugar dissolve in tea and smoke disperse in the air and wondered how that happened. Albert realized that everything is made of tiny particles. While many people didn’t believe it, Albert’s work helped prove the existence of atoms.

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Image copyright Vladimir Radunsky, courtesy of chroniclebooks.com

Next Albert considered motion and how everything is always moving. “Even sound asleep we’re moving, as our planet circles the sun, and our lives travel into the future. Albert saw time and space as no one ever had before.” He wrote about his theories and sent the articles to magazines that published them all. Scientists asked him to join their research and teach with them. People began to call Albert a genius. Now he could spend all his time thinking, wondering, and imagining—doing what he loved.

His ideas took in huge things—like planets—and infinitesimal things—like the particles inside atoms. To help him think, Albert sailed his little boat and played his violin. Even the kinds of clothes he wore—or didn’t wear—affected his thinking. He loved baggy pants, over-sized sweaters, and NO socks! He was easily recognized around town by his long, white hair.

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Image copyright Vladimir Radunsky, courtesy of chroniclebooks.com

During all these years Albert never forgot about that beam of light he once wanted to ride. He “figured out that no person, no thing, could ever zoom through space as fast as a beam of light.” If that could occur “crazy things” would happen. While only minutes would pass for the traveler, years would go by for those left on earth. This sounded like a ridiculous idea, but since then it has been proven true.

Albert Einstein continued reflecting on the world until the day he died. He asked and answered many questions that had never been posed before. But he also left many, many questions for other generations—maybe even you!—to discover and solve.

Jennifer Berne’s engaging biography of Albert Einstein is a charming and absorbing look at one of the most unique thinkers in history. Her uplifting, conversational storytelling and well-chosen anecdotes from Albert’s childhood and adulthood will keep kids riveted to the story and show them that while Albert Einstein’s ideas may have been out of this world, he was also very much down to earth. On a Beam of Light introduces readers to this fascinating scientist and will also inspire them to find the genius inside themselves.

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Image copyright Vladimir Radunsky, courtesy of chroniclebooks.com

The childlike, offbeat goache, pen, and ink illustrations of Vladimir Radunsky lend the right amount of lightness and movement to each page, depicting not only Albert and his surroundings but also the endless musings that filled his mind and his days. As Albert grows from a baby to a child, his loving and understanding parents stand by and encourage his gifts; he and his bicycle rocket off on a beam of light; and numbers swirl through the air as Albert rests his head on a stack of books. In a restaurant other patrons are portrayed as simple line drawings, putting the focus on Albert as he ponders a dissolving sugar cube, a device that is used to also depict Albert’s thoughts and scientists of the future who have proven his theories correct. When Albert discovers atoms, he and a family portrait are rendered in dots. The muted colors, mottled paper, and period details allow readers to fully appreciate Albert’s Einstein’s story and contributions.

An Author’s Note and further paragraphs about Einstein’s thought experiments, playful nature, pacifism, and most famous equation, as well as a list of resources follow the text.

On a Beam of Light is a wonderful addition to home libraries for children interested in science, math, ideas, history, and creativity in general. Jennifer Berne’s emphasis on the support Albert received from his parents and his ultimate acceptance within the science community is also welcome comfort for kids who do think differently.

Ages 4 – 9

Chronicle Books, 2016 (paperback) | ISBN 978-1452152110

To view more books by Jennifer Berne, plus pictures by her readers and more, go to her website!

Visit Vladimir Radunsky’s website to see a gallery of his books with pictures!

Smart is Cool Day Activity

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I’m Smart Because…

 

In what way are you smart? Draw a picture or write about your special talent on this printable I’m Smart Because…page.

Picture Book Review