Our latest bedtime read-aloud for me and the girls was Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. I chose it because it fit the time period we were studying; the girls loved it because they’ve seen the original movie a few times and so were very familiar with the story. In fact, they (especially Lulu, who loves movies) are more familiar with the movie than I am since I didn’t see it myself until I was an adult, and I haven’t been what I’d call an attentive movie watcher in years. (I usually multitask while I watch movies.)
This is the quintessential homeschooling book, even though the Gilbreth children attend school (though, yes, on their father’s terms). I absolutely love the part where Papa makes the children listen to language lessons on the gramophone while they’re doing things like taking a bath or brushing their teeth–you know, so as not to waste time. It reminds me of something I would do. 😉
I was surprised a microscopic amount at the amount of language and old-fashioned references to s**, dating, etc. in the book, but I have to also say that all of this made the book feel more real to me–like it’s a real story told by real people (which it is), and not a made-up story told to please a reader. The closest thing I can think of that’s like it that we’ve read aloud is the Little Britches series–very engaging and entertaining, but obviously real. In this story I didn’t love Papa–he’s such a strong personality and he seems like something of a blowhard. However, I was quite touched by this bit that comes in the last few paragraphs of the story:
There was a change in Mother after Dad died. A change in looks and a change in manner. Before her marriage, all Mother’s decisions had been made by her parents. After the marriage, the decisions were made by Dad. It was Dad who suggested having a dozen children, and that both of them become efficiency experts. If his interests had been in basket weaving or phrenology, she would have followed him just as readily.
While Dad lived, Mother was afraid of fast driving, of airplanes, of walking alone at night. When there was lightning, she went in a dark closet and held her ears. When things went wrong at dinner, she sometimes burst into tears and had to leave the table. She made public speeches, but she dreaded them.
Now, suddenly, she wasn’t afraid anymore, because there was nothing to be afraid of. Now nothing could upset her because the thing that mattered most had been upset. None of us ever saw her weep again.
I love this because I think I’d feel the same way if I were in her shoes.
I like the very end of the story–it’s abrupt and a wee bit unusual, but it gave me a little something to think about. That’s all I’ll say about it.
The girls are already looking for a copy of the sequel, Belles on Their Toes. I don’t think I’ll read it aloud, though I wouldn’t mind reading it myself one day. That’s a pretty good recommendation. (Perennial, 1948)