Primary Sources for the Primary Grades: A Apple Pie

This post is by Teresa St. Angelo, the 2016-2017 Library of Congress Teacher in Residence

What would you do for a piece of apple pie? A Apple Pie, created and published in 1900, traces the destiny of an apple pie, using the alphabet and charming illustrations.

Kate Greenaway. A Apple Pie. London ; New York: F. Warne, 1900

Kate Greenaway. A Apple Pie. London ; New York: F. Warne, 1900

This delightful primary source, more than an alphabet recognition book, is superb to use with any grade. Look carefully at every illustration and you will see toys, clothing, and activities that will enhance a student’s understanding of a past time. Each page offers opportunities to create a variety of questions for further investigation.

Here are some thoughts on how to approach this book with young elementary students. Prior to introducing the book to students, teachers can develop guiding questions that command critical thinking skills and provoke students to want to learn more. Then, by analyzing the pages and illustrations, students will be able to break down information into parts by making inferences, identifying motives or causes, and uncovering evidence to support details.

A Apple Pie2Begin your primary source lesson by either reading the book aloud or providing time for students to read the book and enjoy the enchanting adventure of the apple pie.

After reading the book, allow students time to discuss their thoughts and feelings about the story, characters, and the ending. Then engage higher level thinking skills in a primary source analysis.

Looking at the page for letter A, featuring 19th century children holding hands while circling round a very large apple pie, the teacher might pose questions such as: What do you see?  What did you notice first?  What are the children wearing and why?

With other pages and illustrations, such as letter B or N, the teacher can pose questions that engage all students and offer opportunities for discovering toys from the past.  Students might notice the large hoop and stick.  They might wonder what the pull-toy is. Ask them to compare the toys in the pictures to their toys.

B Bit It N Nodded For It

Consider using these following questions for other pages:

  • What would happen if _________?
  • If someone made this today what would be different?UVWXYZ Apple

Invite students to ask their own questions. Offer the following words to help students develop their questioning skills: Who?  What?  Where?  When?  Why?  How?

Develop a research strategy to help students find the answers to their questions.  Include making a plan on how to collect data and information.

Finally, offer follow-up activities that are motivating and provide opportunities to increase student understanding. For example:

  • Create your own alphabet book A-Z for the adventures of a pie – or another object – based on the present time or a specific historical time;
  • Create a list of antonyms for the words given in the story, A-Z;
  • Illustrate a different ending for this story.

A Apple Pie is one of the books from the Rare Book Division at the Library of Congress that is also available through the free StoryBug app.  See // for information about the app and other books from the Library’s collections that it features.

Enjoy using this fascinating primary source to rouse student inquiry and set off active learning.

Share any ideas you have about using this primary source with your students or let us know what you would do for a piece of apple pie?