The book Cheaper by the Dozen (which is nothing like the 2003 Steve Martin film of the same name, thank goodness) tells the hilarious — and inspiring — true story of the Frank and Lillian Gilbreth family.
Frank Gilbreth was a loud and colorful, self-taught engineer who became a world-renown time-motion expert in the early 1900’s. Lillian, his wife, was a quiet and refined woman who earned a Ph.D. in psychology from Brown University and is considered the first-ever industrial/organizational psychologist. Together they changed manufacturing efficiency around the globe — but this memoir (written by two of their children) tells how they also used their ground-breaking time-motion discoveries to run their home and raise their 12 children in New Jersey.
The Gilbreths are not your typical family with mundane chores or activities. NO! EVERY aspect of the Gilbert household is thought through carefully for efficiency and maximum skill learning — and then ramped up for tons of fun! One summer the Gilbreth children learn Morse Code by deciphering clues painted throughout the house on the walls of their vacation home. Each clue was part of an elaborate daily treasure hunt created by their father. Later the children teach themselves to type (a new and exciting skill in the early 1900’s) using Frank’s ingenious quick method — then the child with the fastest typing speed is taken on the road and showcased at national competitions. Multiplication math tricks are memorized and practiced at dinner each night, with even the baby learning to quickly multiply huge numbers in his head! When tonsillitis hits the family, Frank insists the entire family — whether you were sick or not — have their tonsils removed (in the living room!) the same day to save both time and money. Every morning each child bathed in the most efficient way, listened to foreign language recordings while brushing their teeth, made their beds and prepared for their day according to intricate systems developed by their parents. You’ll laugh out loud at Frank’s ideas and the kids’ responses — but you’ll also take notes!
This is a book every parent (and child) should read. You certainly won’t want to emulate everything the Gilbreth family does, but it will get you thinking about how things might be done better in your own home. The best part of Cheaper by the Dozen is the love and good spirit that accompanies this family wherever they go and whatever they do.
Cheaper by the Dozen was one of two books my husband, David, asked me to read before we were married (this is the other one). It has become one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve re-read it multiple times — including as a read-aloud to our children on a family vacation to Oregon in 1997.
Middle to High School Grade reading level, 224 pages, Family Life, Published in 1948.