When I select our chapter book read-alouds for the year, I typically reference several different lists of literature to find some of the best titles recommended for a particular age group. I’ve very rarely found myself in the position of feeling like I had made a potentially questionable choice as far as the appropriateness of a book for my kids.
I picked up a copy of Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey at one of the many book sales I’ve attended in recent years — I think I vaguely recalled having seen it on one of my book lists…then seeing it on my shelf when I was making my list to read-aloud to Miss M, I added it since we already had a copy.
Overall, I guess it was an okay choice to read — Miss M thought it was really funny (as did I). But if I would have known a bit more about the content of the book, I think I would have saved it for when Miss M was just a bit older.
Cheaper by the Dozen is a biographical tale about the family of famous efficiency experts Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. Mr. Gilbreth has many useful ideas for improving efficiency in factories and other workplaces, and he tries to incorporate some of those ideas at home…with predictably funny results. Of course, life in general with a family of 12 kids is bound to be funny! The book takes place in the early 20th century, and some of the antics of the Gilbreth family seem especially funny now, considering “modern” sensibilities — like tonsils removed assembly line style at home, and the whole troop of children piled seemingly one on top of another in the back of the family car with two crying babies on mom’s lap.
The chapters of the book are somewhat thematic, while there is also a bit of time progression as the book continues on — stories of first dates and learning to drive are found more toward the end of the book.
Speaking of those first dates…this gets into a few things I found “questionable” about the content of this book — at least when considering at as read aloud for an 8.5 year old. As the girls of the family get to be teenagers, there is discussion about what they might be doing with their boyfriends. Nothing graphic of course…but I really don’t need to be explaining “necking and petting” to my 3rd grader.
There’s also a “peeping Tom” who wants to watch one of the girls through the window as she puts on her pajamas, and a lady on a birth control crusade who is sent to the Gilbreth home as a joke by a friend who has a large brood of children herself. Not awful topics to be discussing with my daughter…but definitely different than the topics our read-alouds usually bring up.
Members of the family take the Lord’s name in vain regularly — luckily this is pretty easy to edit out, though I forgot a few times and saw a pretty surprised look on Miss M’s face (since that’s not something that would be acceptable in our home)!
After we finished the book I started to wonder whether I imagined ever having seen Cheaper by the Dozen on a list of recommended reading for elementary age students. A little bit of research revealed that this title used to be included on Sonlight’s Core E list (for approximately 4th grade), but was discontinued from their curriculum. Too many complaints about the content, perhaps?!?
And, in case you were wondering, it seems like the more recent Steve Martin movie of the same title bears little resemblance to the classic book. A film of the same title made in the 1950s is apparently more faithful to the original — I have have a DVD of that movie waiting for me on the reserve shelf at the library. 🙂 I’m assuming a 1950s movie will be pretty family friendly for a movie night this weekend (but I probably should research that a bit more just to be sure!)
I’m linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!
I discovered Cheaper by the Dozen when I was a teen and loved it, but I can see your hesitation in reading to a young child. The 50’s film resembles the book more than the new one, though as with all films they are never like the book.
I read your post last week but couldn’t comment on my i-device, so I’m just now getting back to it. I’ve never read Cheaper by the Dozen, but I have seen both movies. I concur with Beth–the older version does go into the birth control issue a bit, etc. It is a fun story, but thanks for the heads-up regarding the controversies!