December 18 – Bake Cookies Day


About the Holiday

Baking cookies is a wonderful to get the whole family together! Not only does everyone have fun, but it’s a great time to share traditional family recipes and tell kids the stories that go with them. By baking together children can also learn important skills that translate into future success in school and elsewhere. So, grab your recipes, ingredients, and utensils and bake up a few batches of scrumptious cookies!

How the Cooke Crumbled: The True (and Not-So-True) Stories of the Invention of the Chocolate Chip Cookie

By Gilbert Ford


As you’re gobbling down delicious chocolate chip cookies, do you ever wonder who invented them or how they came to be such favorites? Well, the “who” part is easy: chocolate chip cookies were the brainchild of Ruth Wakefield. But the “how” is a bit more tricky. Here are the three popular stories surrounding this yummy treat—which do you think is right?


Copyright Gilbert Ford, 2017, courtesy of

Ruth was a born baker. She loved helping her grandmother out in the kitchen as soon as she “was old enough to hold a spoon.” Ruth had a special feeling about cooking—to her “cooking was a science, and the kitchen was her lab.” When Ruth graduated from high school, she went to college to study nutrition. With her degree in hand, Ruth taught cooking in a high school. But while “she enjoyed leading her classes, she hungered for something more.”


Copyright Gilbert Ford, 2017, courtesy of

Ruth met and married Kenneth Wakefield, who also “shared her passion for cooking.” Together, they planned to open their own restaurant. Four years later, even though the economy was in depression and they had a young son, Ruth and Kenneth bought an old tollhouse in Whitman, Massachusetts. They fixed it up and named their restaurant the Toll House Inn.


Copyright Gilbert Ford, 2017, courtesy of

Ruth did “most of the cooking herself while Kenneth ordered food and helped out in the kitchen.” Ruth was very particular about how the Toll House Inn was run, even measuring “the distance between the fork and the plate for accuracy. Hungry diners began visiting the Toll House Inn, leaving satisfied and ready to return.

So how did chocolate chip cookies come to be? Here are the three popular theories: “The Disaster”—One story says that while Ruth was “whipping up a batch of Butter Drop Do cookies,” her mixer, spinning at top speed, “knocked a Nestlé chocolate bar off the shelf” and right into the dough. “What a disaster!” The grill man thought Ruth should bake them anyway, and when the cookies were done, Ruth “discovered pure heaven.”


Copyright Gilbert Ford, 2017, courtesy of

“The Substitute”—Having forgotten to order baking chocolate, Ruth chopped up a Nestlé chocolate bar and added it to the dough, thinking that it would melt evenly in the oven. “But when she pulled the cookies from the oven, boy, was she wrong. ‘They’re ruined!’ she cried.” But some waitresses and kitchen workers tried them and found them to be delicious. When Ruth tried them herself, she agreed.

“The Mastermind”—Inspiration struck Ruth while returning from a trip to Egypt. Back in the kitchen, “she deliberately took an ice pick to that chocolate bar” and “dropped the chunks into the mix.” The baked cookies were “exactly how she imagined it. She “took a bite and savored the warm, gooey chocolate as it melted right in her mouth.”


Copyright Gilbert Ford, 2017, courtesy of

“So, which version do you believe?”

The Disaster seems a little random, and the Substitute is “a little hard to swallow,” considering Ruth’s vast knowledge of cooking and ingredients. That leaves the Mastermind. Ruth was well-known for her ability to create delectable desserts and for searching out new recipes. It seems that “Ruth deserves some credit. She was one smart cookie!”


Copyright Gilbert Ford, 2017, courtesy of

So with new cookies on the menu, Ruth began serving them to her customers. Everyone loved them and word spread about her “Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies.” People came from far away to try them. So many people, in fact, that Ruth had to expand her restaurant. You might think that Ruth kept her recipe a secret, but instead, she shared it with anyone who asked! She even let it be printed in the newspaper. Soon, people throughout Boston were baking Ruth’s cookies.


Copyright Gilbert Ford, 2017, courtesy of

When Ruth was interviewed on the Betty Crocker radio show, her recipe spread across the country. Seeing an unusual increase in sales of Nestle chocolate bars, the managers set out to find the cause. Soon they showed up at Ruth’s door begging for her recipe. “She gave it to them, and Nestlé began to produce chocolate chips designed specifically for Ruth’s cookies.” In payment, it’s said “she was awarded a lifetime supply of Nestlé chocolate!”

By the 1940s Ruth’s recipe appeared on every bag of Nestlé chocolate chips. From then on, Ruth’s cookies became a favorite of adults and kids alike!

An Author’s Note relating more about Ruth Wakefield and her famous cookies, as well as her classic recipe follow the text.


Copyright Gilbert Ford, 2017, courtesy of

Gilbert Ford presents this sweet story with all the intrigue that has grown up around the invention of the chocolate chip cookie while giving Ruth Wakefield her proper due for her cleverness in the kitchen. Ford’s conversational style invites kids to participate in the story—a nice touch considering that the chocolate chip cookie is a perennial favorite with children. Relating the three separate theories gives readers an opportunity to think about the nature of invention. Including the facts about Ruth’s generosity with her recipe show readers that sharing ideas can be beneficial and could even prompt discussions about different ways to handle proprietary information.


Copyright Gilbert Ford, 2017, courtesy of

In keeping with his light tone, Ford’s illustrations combine realistic and whimsical elements. The three theories are presented in more comic-book style, while the rest of the story portrays the historical time period, Ruth and Kenneth’s growing restaurant, and, of course, the star of the plate—the chocolate chip cookie.

For kids who love cooking and baking, history, and biographies as well as for its value in initiating discussion and even projects, How the Cookie Crumbled would be a welcome addition to home and classroom bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-1481450676

Discover more about Gilbert Ford, his books, and his art on his website.

Bake Cookies Day Activity


Baking Together Coloring Page


Baking together is a fun activity for kids and adults to do anytime! Before gathering all the ingredients and utensils, enjoy this printable Baking Together Coloring Page!

Picture Book Review

January 9 – It’s International Creativity Month


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?


Copyright Gilbert Ford, courtesy of

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.”


Copyright Gilbert Ford, courtesy of

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!


Copyright Gilbert Ford, courtesy of

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.


Copyright Gilbert Ford, courtesy of

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


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

May 7 – National Train Day


About the Holiday

Falling at the end of National Tourism Week, National Train Day honors the history of train travel and its importance to the opening of new frontiers as well as its continued  use for pleasure and business transportation. Train museums and train enthusiasts across the country celebrate with special events, rides, and educational opportunities for all ages. Some celebrations occur today, while others are held on May 14.


By Brian Floca


“Here is a road made for crossing the country, a new road of rails made for people to ride.” So begins Brian Floca’s sprawling paeon to the locomotive and its influence on America and the Old West. Amid the Clank Clank Clank of hammers on iron spikes, men from all over toiled from coast to coast to build the rail lines that carried the trains across the country: “Three strokes to the spike, ten spikes to the rail!”

Families who have sold all their possessions to pay for tickets for the week-long trip west stand on the platform in Omaha, Nebraska watching for the approaching train. Suddenly, they hear the clang of the bell and “see a puff from her stack—a puff of smoke, a smudge in the sky.” The awesome train pulls up at the station huffing “like a beast.”

Her crew—the brakeman, fireman, engineer, and conductor—make the train ready. They gather the passengers, stoke the firebox, push forward the Johnson bar, and get the train underway. The passengers sit back, ready for the long journey. The engineer “is the master of his machine, he knows her moods and tempers, where to set her bars and levers….Westward, westward runs the train, through the prairies, to the Great Plains, on to the frontier.”

In the cars the travelers read, play games, meet their neighbors. In winter they are warmed by a coal stove in one corner, while in the other corner a “modern” convenience is provided. Eventually, the train must stop to refuel. The passengers scramble to the railroad restaurant at the station. They have 20 minutes to eat what the menu offers: buffalo steak, antelope chops, or chicken stew (which tastes suspiciously like prairie dog).

As night falls a new engine is carefully attached to the cars by the switchman, who has learned to be quick to avoid the rolling, jumping cars that can take a finger. “Through the night the engine runs. Those up late hear her whistle, her wild and lonesome cry. It echoes on far hills and homes, it sounds in distant dreams.”

By morning the train has reached the mountains. The going is steep and slow. A second engine must be attached to give the train power enough to climb. On the other side of the mountains the terrain is rugged, and the train must traverse long, rickety wooden bridges. Days pass as the train travels through beautiful, mysterious country, skirting land formations such as Castle Rock, The Witches, Devil’s Slide, and the 1000 Mile Tree.

In Utah at Promontory Summit, the train comes to the meeting place of the tracks built from the East and the tracks built from the West. The passengers disembark and change trains, changing train companies also, from the Union Pacific that brought them here to the Central Pacific who will take them the rest of the way. Now the train passes through desolate, dry country, home to the Paiute and the Shoshone.

The mighty Sierra Nevada rises up ahead. A second engine is again required. If the tracks are slick, the “engineers can pull a handle to drop some sand down a tube, onto the tracks. The wheels hit the grit, the traction does the trick!” Closer and closer the train comes to its final destination, puffing through long wooden sheds that keep the tracks clear in winter and into dark tunnels blasted through the mountain rock.

Down, down the train progresses to the end of the line. The weary but excited travelers jump from the train to meet their friends or family or to start a new life in San Francisco!

If you love trains, American history, or the Old West, or if you are simply enamored of travel, you will want to read Brian Floca’s Caldecott Medal Winning and Silbert Honor book, Locomotive. Floca’s lyrical language makes poetry of the steam train’s inception, from the laying of the rails to the inner workings of the engine to the long journey westward. Fascinating facts of the train crews’ work, conditions for the passengers, and the territory crossed make this a page turner that any age will enjoy.

Readers can almost hear the sounds of the clanging bell and huffing engine, as these sounds are represented in a variety of typefaces and sizes, growing larger and larger as the train approaches the station. Every page is a joy. As the train chugs across the country, the paintings are swept in rushing brush strokes and the train whooshes into view from the edges, filling the page. The vast empty plains nearly dwarf the locomotive, and the mountainous regions pose chilling challenges for the iron horse. The nighttime scenes are beautifully lit by starlight and the single headlight of the train, reflecting the dreams of a new nation.

Although Locomotive is a longer picture book, its rhythms, depth of description, and gorgeous language will appeal to even very young children. Make some tea and hot chocolate and settle in for a cozy read of wonderful book!

Ages 4 – 12 and up (adults will also enjoy this book)

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013 | ISBN 978-1416994152

National Train Day Activity


All Aboard Maze!


Trains travel over intricate terrain, over mountains, across vast plains, and through exciting cities. It’s a little like finding your way through a maze! Have fun completing this printable All Aboard Maze! Here’s the Solution. Choo choo!