One-Minute Book Reviews

October 25, 2006

Cheaper by the Dozen, Sold Short by Steve Martin

Filed under: Children's Books,Classics,Movie Link — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:33 pm

In the movie version, father doesn’t always know best

Cheaper by the Dozen. By Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. HarperTorch movie tie-in edition. 274 pp., $5.99, paperback.

A more accurate title for the 2003 movie version of this beloved classic might have been Cheaper by the Dozen, Discounted. The film starring Steve Martin has almost nothing in common with the book that inspired it except that it involves a spirited family of 12 children dominated by a benevolent tyrant and his endlessly accommodating wife.

The movie does not deal with offspring of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, two of the leading time-and-motion study experts of their time, but with the fictitious family of one of their descendants. Even there it hardly reflects reality. None of the original dozen had more than four offspring (and one died of diphtheria at age six, so all 12 were never contemporaries). And while the book is about a father who rules the roost, the movie allows the children ultimately to gain control and reform the lovable autocrat. (It’s inconceivable that Frank Gilbreth would have yielded as much power to his offspring – or shown as much domestic incompetence – as Martin does.)

All the more reason, then, to savor the original, one of the great family read-aloud books of the 20th century. Cheaper by the Dozen is today regarded as a children’s book. But in its heyday, this hilarious and fast-paced tale was popular among all ages. More than half a century after its publication, it brims with good cheer and slyly subversive ideas on child-rearing. One of Frank Gilbreth’s most ingenious practices was putting household chores up for competitive bids among his children so he could get the lowest price while the money went to whichever child needed it the most. Think about it, parents. Doesn’t this beat nagging, pleading, and bribing the kids with promises of visits to the Nike store?

Best line: “They had a dozen children, six boys and six girls, in 17 years. Somewhat to Dad’s disappointment, there were no twins or other multiple births. There was no doubt in his mind that the most efficient way to rear a large family would be to have one huge litter and get the whole business over with at one time.”

Worst line: Frank Gilbreth Sr. teaches his children Morse code by painting dots and dashes on the walls and having them translate phrases such as: “Two maggots fighting in dead Ernest” and “When igorots [sic] is bliss, ’tis folly to be white.”

Recommended if … you or your children would like to read about that amusing era when children obeyed their parents.

Published: 1948. HarperTorch movie tie in edition, 2003.

Movie Link:

Posted by Janice Harayda

(c) 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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