Monday, June 5, 2017
Reviews from the Children's Section - Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey - I'm an only child and growing up my house was quiet and orderly. I couldn't imagine the chaos and noise and just all the people that existed in the Gilbreth home but I was captivated by it. I read this book probably dozens of times and each time I was completely delighted with it. Reading it as an adult and parent in no way diminishes the delight though it did add an element of understanding and admiration. Dad is the central character in this book. I learned a little bit about the kids but the person I really felt like I knew was Dad. He's brilliant, enthusiastic, with a huge sense of humor. At the same time he's a fairly strict disciplinarian and an enormous softy. This telling is through the eyes of 2 of his children and while he isn't flawless he is definitely beloved. I think my favorite part was when when the older girls have gotten to high school and are wanting to dress trendier and date. I found the frustration of the parents so familiar! Surely there are other parents who are sensible in the school and don't allow their children to bob their hair (or in modern terms get an iPhone in elementary school). And that ending... If it doesn't bring a tear to your eye than I think there's a Grinch audition you need to get too! Rating: Loved it!
Belles on the Toes picks up right where Cheaper by the Dozen leaves off. For the first time the dozen are left on their own and the importance of holding everything together is enormous. While Anne, age 18 and in her 2nd year at Smith, is in charge all of the older children have their part and the Gilbreth system is on full display. The sequel runs through Jane's, the youngest child, graduation and into the future as all of the children become adults. This book isn't as full of zany antics but it is no less enjoyable and full of sweet moments and bits of humor. I loved the oh so casual threats of bodily harm or murder as well as the boys' treatment of Ernestine's boyfriend. It definitely kept them from coming off as too good to be true. Mother takes a more pivotal role in this book and is really a fascinating woman in her own right. While not the loudest and flamboyant of personalities she knows how to get what she wants and it was fun to see that really spotlighted. I also really enjoyed getting a glimpse into the adult life of the dozen (well 11 really - Mary died in 1911). I found myself looking up the various children to find out what happened to them next. It seems that both Ernestine and Frank Jr. (separately) wrote other books after this one and I'm going to do my best to track them down as well as a biography on Lillian herself. Rating: Loved it!
Since these books was written in the late 1940s there's the question of how dated do they seem. I must say for the most part they don't feel dated at all. There are some references that wouldn't cut it anymore (such as Mother's calling all things vulgar "Eskimo") so I did have a few cringes but these were only the occasional mention. I did find the treatment of women interesting. Mother has a college degree and is her husband's full partner in the business. She does a lot of the proofreading and he depends on her for her judgement and opinion. As well the academic standards were no different for the girls than they were for the boys. All children were expected to learn the same things and to excel. Frank Sr. does mention that he wished he'd had all boys but that was when the two oldest girls had just started dating so that feels pretty justified.
I loved these books as a child so I can't say for certain how a new reader would feel about them but I think it'd be hard not to be completely delighted!