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Toys!: Amazing Stories behind Some Great Inventions

Toys!: Amazing Stories behind Some Great Inventions

3.7 3
by Don Wulffson, Laurie Keller (Illustrator)

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Lighthearted text and humorous drawings convey amusement and appreciation for these inspired creations.” —Sue Corbett, Knight Ridder Newspapers

“An interesting read for anybody who appreciates the inventive mind and entrepreneurial spirit.” —Sue Corbett, Knight Ridder Newspapers

Children's Literature - Children's Literature
This resource is perfect for curious kids who want to learn more about the origins of some of their favorite toys including the Slinky, Mr. Potato Head, Silly Putty, Raggedy Ann, Twister, Play-Doh and Trivial Pursuit. The author skillfully explores the exciting histories of more than twenty amazing toys, as well as society's acceptance of these gadgets, novelties and games. Inventors of all ages will definitely treasure this fascinating look at the creative process--from beginning to end. Who knows, maybe these stories will inspire a young "tinkerer" to create the next must-have toy of the new century. Humorous illustrations perfectly complement Wulffson's engaging text. A bibliography and list of web sites are also included. 2000, Henry Holt and Company, Ages 9 to 12, $15.95. Reviewer: Debra Briatico—Children's Literature
VOYA - Voya Reviews
Mr. Potato Head began as a father's plan to show his kids how to really play with food. Twister became an overnight success after Johnny Carson played it on the Tonight Show in 1966. Play-doh(r) was originally used to clean wallpaper. In brief chapters of four to ten pages each, the author reveals the stories behind the invention of some of our favorite playthings and games. Wulffson has encompassed the ancient--seesaws--to the modern--Trivial Pursuit(r)--in his research, also writing of the good and bad modifications made over the years on many old favorites. There is neither alphabetical nor chronological order to the arrangement of the chapters; they appear to be inserted completely at random. The writing style is light and the print is large. Small wacky pen-and-ink drawings sprinkled across the pages illustrate how the items are constructed and used. Although little-known facts about each item are included, there is not enough information for in-depth reports. Nevertheless this slim title could be a useful resource to have on hand for students and teachers in search of trivia. It also might be used as an icebreaker with groups--"Did you know that more than two hundred billion Lego(r) blocks have been produced?" A list of toy- and game-related Web sites is included. Although Toys! is not a must-buy, it is one of the few current and in-print books available on the history of toys. Illus. Biblio. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M J (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2000, Henry Holt, Ages 12 to 15, 137p, $15.95. Reviewer: Pam Carlson
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-Wulffson shares the stories behind classic and commercial toy inventions such as Legos, Mr. Potato Head, Raggedy Ann, toy soldiers, Twister, checkers, and remote control cars. Readers will discover that some of the most popular creations were the products of experiments gone awry, thus providing a lesson in persistence, surprise outcomes, and creative thinking. Several pages of history are provided for each plaything, followed by bulleted trivia, such as "The ingredient that gives Play-Doh its distinctive aroma is vanilla." Keller's clever black-and-white cartoons add humor to the already-engaging text. A light read or a lively report source on inventions.-Victoria Kidd, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, GA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Kirkus Reviews
Wulffson follows up The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle (1997) with the sometimes quirky tales behind more than two dozen novelties, gadgets and games, from playing cards and wind-up toys to Play-Doh. Some (tops, seesaws) have long histories, some (whoopee cushions) only seem to have been around forever, and some (Trivial Pursuit) are of recent vintage. The author brushes in their origins and variations with broad strokes, livening the picture further with factoids at each chapter's end, and Keller's gnomic, black-and-white cartoon figures lighten the tone further by cracking wise on the side. The generalizations may sometimes shade over into oversimplifications ("There is even an Asian religion based on kite flying"), and there is nothing about Pokémon or other current crazes, but these accounts of the origins of super balls, Raggedy Ann, Legos, Twister, Pong and the like will give middle graders new insight into their parents' misspent youths—and a bibliography and a list of Web sites will give readers who want all the details a head start. (Nonfiction. 9-11)

Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.04(w) x 9.22(h) x 0.69(d)
920L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Have you ever wondered who invented Mr. Potato Head, Lego, the bicycle, or even remote control cars?

Here are the fascinating stories behind these toy inventions and many others. Learn why kites were popular in ancient China, how the Slinky was used during the Vietnam War, and the reason Raggedy Ann has a red heart that says "I love you" on her chest. From dolls and checkers to pinball and the modern video game, there's a wide selection for both boys and girls to pore over.

With humor and wit, this intriguing book serves up slices of cultural history that may just inspire young readers to think up their own toy inventions!

Don Wulffson is the author of many books for young readers, including The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle and Other Surprising Inventions. A teacher of English and creative writing, Mr. Wulffson lives with his family in Northridge, California.

Laurie Keller is the author and illustrator of The Scrambled States of America and Open Wide--Tooth School Inside. She lives in New York City. 


Play-Doh began as a product for cleaning wallpaper. The seesaw was first used as a prop in the bloody spectacle in the arenas of ancient Rome. Long ago there were kites so large that people could be flown on them. Behind every toy there is a story.

But some toys have far stranger stories than others. Only those toys that had the most surprising and unbelievable origins are found in this book.

Even though we know generally where and when a given toy was made, the chapters of this book are not in chronological order because there are all sorts of ways in which toys and their histories overlap. For example, tops have been around much longer than today's action figures-but action figures are a type of doll, and dolls were invented thousands of years before tops. So, really, there is no way to put the history of toys into a simplified order.

In 1976, a time capsule was buried in Washington, D.C. Inside the capsule are dozens of toys from the last century. In 2076, exactly one hundred years later, it will be opened. People then will marvel at the wonderful jumble of toys and see how we lived, how we dressed, and what we believed. Just as we are now, they will be amused and surprised by the toys they find, and from them, try to better understand the past.


It was a mistake. A goof-up. An invention that didn't work. A flop; that's what the Slinky was, at least in the beginning.

In 1945, an engineer by the name of Richard James was hard at work in a Philadelphia shipyard. The U.S. Navy had hired him to invent a stabilizing device for its ships. When a ship is plowing through the waves at sea, it pitches and plunges and rocks every which way. And its navigational instruments do, too. Richard's job was to come up with something that would counterbalance the instruments so that they would be level at all times.

Springs. Richard believed that some sort of arrangement of springs would do the trick. He tried all different types and sizes, and put them together in every conceivable way. For weeks he toiled, making dozens of different devices. But none of them worked. In fact, he never did come up with the item the Navy had hired him to invent.

But one day Richard accidentally knocked a large experimental spring off a shelf. It should have just plopped to the floor. Instead, it walked down. Crawled, really. Coil by coil, end over end, it descended onto a stack of books ... then down to a desktop ... down to a chair ... and from there to the floor, where it gathered itself back together.

He tried it again and again. Each time, the same thing happened.

As soon as the workday was over, Richard hurried home. Fascinated with the strange spring, he showed his wife, Betty, what it could do. Together, they tried it out in all sorts of ways and in all sorts of places. It was especially good at walking down stairs.

A toy. Richard didn't think of it that way. Betty did. She was the one who realized that what her husband had invented was a terrific toy. Betty was also the one who named it.

At first, all sorts of names came to mind, but none seemed quite right. For the next two days she thumbed through a dictionary, keeping a list of some of the best possibilities. Finally, she came upon what she believed was the perfect word to describe the toy: slinky.

Early the next year, Betty and Richard James borrowed $500 to have four hundred Slinkys made. They went from store to store, trying to get the owners to stock them. A few did. But despite Slinky's wonderful ability to walk, it didn't move off the shelves. Not a single one was bought.

Richard and Betty were discouraged but not about to give up. Slinky was a supertoy, they were sure. And it would sell--but people needed to be shown what it could do.

They went to the manager of a large department store named Gimbel's. It took a lot of talking--even a little begging!--but finally they convinced the manager to let them put on a demonstration. Fearing the worst, Richard slipped a dollar to a friend to make sure at least one Slinky would be sold. It turned out, though, that he had no need to worry. Shoppers stared in amazement as the steel coil gracefully walked down a sloped board. Within ninety minutes, the entire stock of four hundred had been sold. 

Before long, Richard and Betty were able to start their own company. Within a few years, they were millionaires. As for Slinky, 250 million have been sold to date; Slinky's sales are as strong today as ever. In the world of toys, Slinky still walks that walk, and shows no sign of ever slowing down.

  • The early Slinkys were made of blue-black Swedish steel. In the first year of production, this material was replaced with less expensive American metal.
  • At $2 apiece, a Slinky costs only twice what it did fifty years ago. 
  • There are about eighty feet of wire in a standard-sized Slinky. 
  • During the Vietnam War (early 1960s-1975) the Slinky reverted to its original role. First intended for the military, Slinky the toy ended up on the battlefield. Carried by radiomen in the jungles of Vietnam, Slinkys were tossed over high tree branches as make-shift antennas. 
  • It takes approximately ten seconds to manufacture one Slinky. 
  • Slinkys make good scarecrows. After seeds have been planted, try hanging a Slinky on a nearby branch. With the slightest breeze, it'll dance around, and birds will stay away.
  • Slinky's most recent accomplishment was in outer space. Bunches have gone aboard space shuttles. The purpose: to test the effects of zero gravity on springs.

Copyright © 2000 by Don L. Wulffson

Meet the Author

Don Wulffson is the author of many books for young readers including The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle and Other Strange Inventions. A teacher of English and creative writing, Mr. Wulffson is the recipient of the Leather Medal Award for Poetry. He lives with his family in Northridge, California.

Laurie Keller is the acclaimed author-illustrator of Do Unto Otters, Arnie, the Doughnut, The Scrambled States of America, and Open Wide: Tooth School Inside, among numerous other books for children. She earned a B.F.A. at Kendall College of Art and Design. She lives in Michigan, in a little cottage in the woods on the shore of Lake Michigan.

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Toys!: Amazing Stories behind Some Great Inventions 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
AmazingKidsReview More than 1 year ago
Did you know that Play-Doh originally only came in white and it was used to clean wallpaper? Did anyone ever tell you that the Slinky was an invention created when an engineer was trying to invent a stabilizing device for Navy ships? Toys! Amazing Stories Behind Some Great Inventions by Don Wulffson, explains the strange and interesting stories behind some of the most familiar and popular toys. It could have been an invention that originally didn't work or something that was created by accident. This book takes us on the adventures behind such great toys as the bicycle, Toy Soldiers and the Super Ball. The author not only gives the history but also completes each chapter with fun facts about the toys. It has great comic illustrations (as you can see from the book cover) and is fun, interesting and educational to read. You will enjoy this book. I sure did!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
i love reading this book! cools facts! guarteened a+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++