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.
First things first: this book has nothing in common with the 2003 movie starring Steve Martin except the title and the number of offspring in the featured family. Where the film was just a standard family comedy with a larger cast, the book is a genuinely sweet and funny look at an atypical family in the early part of the twentieth century. It’s also worth noting that this book doesn’t take much longer to read than the movie takes to watch.
Written by two of the dozen children, Cheaper By the Dozen is a memoir, basically a loosely-connected series of vignettes, mostly funny and occasionally moving. Although the title makes it sound like it focuses primarily on the children, the most vivid character in the story is actually Frank Galbrath, Sr., the father of the titular dozen. Both he and his wife Lillian are efficiency experts, making their living by showing companies and individuals how they can reduce “motion waste” and save time and money. They choose to apply these same principles to their family: irregular jobs are bid on by the children, with the job and the subsequent reward going to the lowest bidder; Morse code is taught by painting legends in every room of the house, and, similarly, foreign languages are taught by means of phonographs in every room.
Cheaper By the Dozen, like most funny books, doesn’t really benefit from a review. You can pick it up and read a couple pages and see if it’s for you. If you come from a family of thirteen, like me, it just might catch your attention.