Although originally written for adults, Cheaper by the Dozen promises to entertain young adult readers. This book, based on the authors’ childhood diaries, was translated into many languages and became a cinema box-office hit. Its charm and appeal lies in the authors’ ability to capture deftly the essence of what it was like to grow up in a large family. Even though few people might have been reared in circumstances as exceptional as those experienced by the Gilbreth children, there is much with which the young adult reader can identify. Brothers tease, sisters torment, children grouse about chores that they would rather not do, and all cringe when “Dad” proudly calls attention to his dozen offspring. The authors’ objectivity in telling the story keeps it moving at a page-turning pace.
The reader will find an account in which parents are praised for the philosophy of life that they imparted to their offspring to be a rarity. Reading about how these values were cleverly taught to the Gilbreths is both comic and inspiring. Rare, too, is the biography in which children good-naturedly present a seemingly unbiased view of family life—faults and merits alike. The biography’s format, that of a fast-paced novel, draws the reader into vicariously experiencing life in the Gilbreth household. The beauty of this book is that the authors show children as they really are. These brothers and sisters were no more angels—despite their regimented life—than any other...
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Because Cheaper by the Dozen presents situational family humor, a reader who overlooks the authors’ foreword might mistakenly believe it to be fiction rather than biography. As biography, this book will probably elicit a wide variety of reactions. Some young readers may not believe that parents would want or could rear so many children, maintain a household, and be leaders in their professions. Those who come from broken homes may envy the love, care, and discipline that surrounded the Gilbreths. Others, giving thanks that they were reared more leniently, may be aghast at Frank Gilbreth’s domination of his family and his use of corporal punishment. Some might also consider Gilbreth unduly egotistical and overbearing. Yet all criticisms of this book, including what could be construed as racial slurs—such as Lillian Gilbreth’s using the term “Eskimo” to mean something off-color or references to Chinese people being heathens—must be considered within the context of the book’s time frame of 1871 to 1924.
Nevertheless, Cheaper by the Dozen demonstrates a balance between family life and work that few working couples are able to achieve and a sense of family unity that is enviable. It is a book to inspire the cynical heart and to confirm to the hopeful heart that family life, when based on love, ingenuity, and mutual respect—no matter the size of that family—is wonderful and memorable. Those young people who enjoy Cheaper by the Dozen may want to read the sequel, Belles on Their Toes (1950).