Critical Context

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).