Ever since I was about 12 years old one of my favorite books has been Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth and Ernestine Carey. It is a memoir that tells the story of the Gilbreth family in Montclair, New Jersey during the 1920’s. Frank and Lilian Gilbreth were pioneers in the field of motion study. As part of their profession they would enter factories and study the movements of workers to figure out how items could be made more quickly. This started when as a young man Frank studied the motions of brick layers and discovered a way to reduce the amount of steps it took to lay a brick wall. He then wrote a paper, which led to further papers and finally a career in the field. An interesting fact is that Frank never went to college despite being a frequent lecturer. His wife, Lilian, was a well educated woman who received a BA and MA from UC Berkley and a PHD from Brown University. I don’t want to give too much away but Lilian was a remarkable leader and mother- one of my heroes.
After they married Frank and Lilian decided to put their motion study expertise to the ultimate test- by raising a family of 12 children. They even decided that 6 boys and 6 girls would be the perfect dozen and that’s just what they had. As you can imagine operating a two income family while raising 12 children is no easy task and Cheaper by the Dozen tells the story of how the Gilbreth’s did it. The funniest parts of the book involve Frank Gilbreth’s attempts to bring his motion study career into the running of his family- even to the extent of filming the kids tonsillectomies to see how the surgeon can improve efficiency (that story has such a funny ending). I love how the kids have to listen to language records while they get ready in the morning and study morse code in the summer by solving clues written on the wall by their Dad. There are also great scenes of both Gilbreth parents trying to deal with their children growing up in the roaring 20’s. Frank puts up quite the fight against his daughters dating, wearing flapper fashions and cutting their hair into short bobs.
I am sure the real life Gilbreth family was not as perfect and whimsical as portrayed in the book but I like to think they were close. Regardless, Cheaper by the Dozen is a funny, charming book about a family that lived with flair! By the way, don’t pay any attention to the Steve Martin movies made under the title Cheaper By the Dozen. They have no similarity to the book except for the 12 children. I don’t know why they didn’t just adapt the book. Its so great! There is an old version with Clifton Webb that is more accurate.
If you are looking for a funny, light, entertaining book READ IT! I know you will love it!