The Inventor's Secret<br><font size=2>What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford</font>

The Inventor's Secret
What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford

  • 1695

By: Suzanne Slade / Illustrated by: Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Thomas Edison was a successful inventor. How could he help his friend Henry Ford?

From the time they were young, both Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were filled with curiosity. Early on, Thomas’s experiments often ended in explosions and fire. Henry’s childhood experiments went similarly awry, leaving him with broken toys and flooded fields.

As the boys grew older, Edison began to see success with his inventions while Ford continued to struggle. Henry was fixated on creating an affordable vehicle, but was discouraged by his lack of success. And all the while, those around him marveled at Thomas’s electric pen, phonograph, and incandescent lightbulb. Henry couldn’t help but wonder what Thomas’s secret was—how did he create so many successful inventions?

Henry finally gets the chance of a lifetime to show his gas-powered vehicle plans to Thomas Edison himself. Will Henry learn the secret to Thomas's success?

Along with Jennifer Black Reinhardt’s lively, detailed illustrations, Suzanne Slade tells this little-known story of friendship, curiosity, and perseverance.

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Author & Illustrator Bios:

Suzanne Slade, author

Suzanne Slade loves finding out how things work. A former mechanical engineer, she once worked on Delta IV rockets and automotive brake systems. Now a full-time author, she has written more than one hundred children's books, including Friends for Freedom: The Story of Susan B. Anthony & Frederick Douglass and The House That George Built. Suzanne lives near Chicago, where she writes from home on her favorite invention—a laptop computer.

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Jennifer Black Reinhardt, illustrator

Jennifer Black Reinhardt is fascinated by the stories behind old objects. While researching this book, she studied the Victorian clothing and furnishings in her collection of antique photographs--and fell in love with fancy borders. Jennifer is the illustrator of Rabbi Benjamin's Buttons and The Adventures of a South Pole Pig (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). She could not have illustrated this book without the invention of the lightbulb.

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Awards & Honors:

  • 2016-2017 Delaware Diamonds, Grades 3-5
  • NCSS 2016 Notable Social Studies Trade Books list

Editorial Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews

What would a renowned, established inventor have to say to a hopeful young tinkerer?

Slade precedes her description of a historical meeting with interwoven accounts: one of Thomas, a disaster-prone experimenter who parlays an early interest in gadgets and electricity into a pen that produces multiple copies, a phonograph, and hundreds of other popular innovations; the other of Henry, born 16 years later, whose yen to produce a practical, inexpensive motor car encounters obstacle after frustrating obstacle. At last, hoping for insight into Edison's success, Henry buttonholes the great inventor at an 1896 dinner. The two instantly fall into a technical discussion, climaxed by the excited Edison's "Keep at it!" . . . the author and illustrator close with fuller notes on major Edison-ian inventions, the development of the Model T, and particularly the lifelong friendship that the encounter kindled between these two giants of industrial technology. . . .

Publishers Weekly

"What's his secret?" That's the question dogging Henry Ford as he watches Thomas Edison's phonograph and incandescent bulb take off, while his own attempts to create steam and gas engines sputter. Slade shifts between the developing careers of both men until, while discussing engines with Edison at a dinner in 1896, Ford gets his answer: "Keep at it!" Edison shouts encouragingly. Reinhardt's mixed-media artwork includes several lighthearted moments (parallel scenes featuring Edison and Ford as children highlight the explosive results of early failed experiments). Extensive endnotes discuss Slade's and Reinhardt's processes and several of the inventions mentioned, along with a time line and source notes. It's a rewarding look at the importance of persistence, as well as the friendship that developed between these prominent inventors.

School Library Journal

Emphasizing the power of perseverance, this cheery picture book alternates between the lives of two inventors, beginning with Thomas Edison, who was 16 years Henry Ford’s senior. Many of Edison’s major inventions are touched on, and young Ford is portrayed as curious as to the secret of Edison’s success. Ford continues to work on developing engines and designing cars and finally seizes the opportunity to meet Edison in person. The two go over Ford’s designs, and Edison urges the younger man to “keep at it!” With that, Ford discovers that “he’d known Thomas’s secret all along!”—a realization illustrated with a light bulb over Ford’s head. The rest of the story focuses on Ford’s work on creating a car for all Americans, which resulted in the Model-T. Fanciful watercolor sketches depict Edison and Ford dreaming, inventing, and working, with a variety of expressions on their faces. The drawings are framed on the page, providing an old-fashioned feel. Inset images provide details and information on their inventions. The front and endpapers are filled with sketches of various light bulbs and gears in muted brown tones. The early lives and activities of these men are covered briefly. The factual text emphasizes how both started as dreamers who took action. Back matter includes a section on Edison and Ford’s friendship, more material about the inventions, author and illustrator notes, and extensive source notes with citations for dialogue and other facts. VERDICT A suitable addition for those seeking biographies of inventors.


This dual picture-book biography of how Thomas Edison inspired Henry Ford succeeds in showing the emotional side of the life of an inventor: success requires more than just one or two—or even two dozen—attempts. Reinhardt’s soft, amiable watercolor, ink, and colored-pencil artwork provides a lot of visual detail about both Edison’s and Ford’s passions, while Slade’s text explains each man’s inspiration and the way his inventions fundamentally changed the world. Ample source notes and a comprehensive dual time line help explain some of Slade and Reinhardt’s depictions of Ford and Edison, and photo-illustrated notes about each inventor’s most memorable creations provide substantial information to get kids started on research projects. While there are abundant compilations for kids about inventions and inventors, Slade and Reinhardt keep the focus solidly on the human element of frustration, persistence, and the power of a mentor. It’s an unusual angle and well executed, which makes it a good fit for STEM-oriented programs as well as storytimes about the benefit of good friendships.

School Library Connection

In 1896 Henry Ford was struggling to design and produce an inexpensive gasoline driven automobile everyone could afford to drive. He dreamed that his car would fundamentally change the world, but things were not going well. That same year, Ford had the great good fortune of meeting the great Thomas Edison and found the encouragement to finish what he had started. Slade keeps the story moving along at a brisk pace that will delight young readers, whether as a read-alone or a read-aloud. Illustrations in watercolor, ink, and black pencil bring out all the humor and warmth in the story while evoking a wonderful sense of the time period. Back pages include more details about the friendship, an illustrator’s note on the research behind her work, details about each man’s inventions, and an impressive set of source notes. In total, a terrific true story about how a little encouragement can engender a strong belief in one’s self and the courage to persevere.


ISBN: 978-1-58089-667-2

ISBN: 978-1-60734-763-7 EPUB
ISBN: 978-1-60734-712-5 PDF
For information about purchasing E-books, click here.

Ages: 6-9
Page count: 48
8 x 10

Correlated to Common Core State Standards:
English Language Arts-Literacy. Reading Informational. Grade 2. Standards 1
Eng, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10lish Language Arts-Literacy. Reading Informational. Grade 3. Standards 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10

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