Pairing Picture Books and Primary Sources: How the Cookie Crumbled by Gilbert Ford

When I first read Gilbert Ford’s book How the Cookie Crumbled where readers are introduced to Ruth Wakefield and the invention of the chocolate chip cookie, I immediately wondered what primary sources could be paired with the book. My searches led me to a group of sources that I can’t wait to share with my students this coming year.

Curating Primary Sources

When I search for primary sources, I’m often looking for items within a very specific time period. For the topic of the invention of the chocolate chip cookie, this was still the case. But what I found interesting about the story is that the recipe, intentional or not, was a variation on another recipe. That idea of variations on recipes caught my attention. It reminded me of my students who regularly check out cookbooks to read through the recipes.

I tweaked my topic slightly to variations of the original chocolate chip cookie recipe. From there, I began my search. I did find some items directly related to Ruth Wakefield. Those are included with other finds in the curated set of primary sources. Other items in the set are recipes that I found interesting, possibly tasty, and one that was completely unappealing to me. I anticipate those variations will be engaging to some of my students. Some will want to try a coconut chocolate chip cookie. Others will want to share their likely dislike of chocolate chip raisin cookies.

Jumping Off with the Picture Book

Evening Star, April 7, 1946

Ford’s book not only gives an entertaining story of the invention of the chocolate chip cookie. It also sets the stage for a wonderful discussion about inventions in baking. Intentional or not, Wakefield was the first person to try the recipe. What if she had made a different decision? What if she had decided not to serve her new dessert?

Ask students why people create new recipes. To help expand their thinking, share the article from the baker who substituted breadcrumbs for flour. Why did the person do that? Why was the idea shared?

Share variations on the original recipe that include the same ingredients. Students’ close reading can reveal variations in amounts of ingredients, preparation, baking time, or temperature. What questions do students have about the different recipes?  Online searches on baking sites or baking discussion boards may reveal some possible reasons for changes to the original recipe.

Additional items folded in with the chocolate chips may be easier for some students to envision and discuss. How could additions like coconut or raisins work within a chocolate chip cookie? Who do some sound appealing and others not? For those students who enjoy chocolate, thinking through what they like to eat with it may help in brainstorming new variations to the original recipe.

Using Primary Sources in Different Ways

Toll House Trade Card

The pairing of the picture book and primary sources may also lead students to mathematical thinking. Doubling or halving batches or converting volume measurements to weight measurements using online calculators are great examples of math in real life. 

Some families may enjoy trying a recipe that is over half a century old. Other students may enjoy critiquing the cookie itself. Pairing up with a family and consumer sciences class in middle or high school may be a more direct way to see the fruits of their mathematical labor.

Other students may want to look at more modern recipes to find differences and similarities. Common baking techniques using “dry” and “wet” ingredients may not be apparent to students who read recipes but don’t bake. Purposefully comparing the historical recipe directions may help them recognize this pattern in baking.

There are many ways to incorporate recipes and other primary sources with Ford’s book. Being creative with curriculum objectives and responding to student interests can ensure a positive pairing of this picture book and primary sources.


Author: Tom Bober

Tom Bober is a school librarian at RM Captain Elementary, 2018 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress, and author of the upcoming book Elementary Educator’s Guide to Primary Sources: Strategies for Teaching. He writes the Picture Books and Primary Sources posts for AASL’s KQ blog and has written articles for several publications. Tom also presents at conferences, runs workshops, and gives webinars to promote the use primary sources in student learning. He began his career as an elementary classroom teacher, was also an educational technologist, and has spent the last nine years as a school librarian.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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2 replies

  1. Did you bake up all these cookies? And if so, which recipes were the best? This is a very fun example of great curation, Tom. And thanks for the old-timey recipes.

  2. Christie, I actually have a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe that I’ve made for years and part of me thinks making anything else may be a bit of a waste of great chocolate!
    I do love looking up recipes though and comparing ingredients and methods which ended up being the inspiration for this post.

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