I’ve been reading a biography of Lillian Moller Gilbreth, industrial psychologist and efficiency engineer, and thinking of a book two of her children wrote about their family, Cheaper by the Dozen.

I first encountered the Gilbreths in the fifth grade because my teacher, Sharon McKenna, read to the class for about a half an hour a day after lunch. Now, my readers know that for all I love to read, there are few pleasures I enjoy more than being read to.

“Read to kids in the fifth grade?” I hear you cry indignantly. “Shouldn’t the lazy little monsters read for themselves?”

Nonsense! It was a brilliant idea. No-one had to convince me to read. The trouble was prying books out of my hands long enough to do other things. No, it was the brilliance of having the teacher pick some books and read them aloud. Captive as I was in school anyway, it exposed me to books I might not otherwise have read. While my fondness for science fiction ensured that I’d pick up A Wrinkle in Time at some point, my general tastes would never have pushed me to get a book about a boy and his dogs like Where the Red Fern Grows, nor is there any way I would have picked up what I would have seen as essentially a fluff nostalgia piece like Cheaper by the Dozen.

Yet these books remain among my favorites to this day.

I learned more than I realized. A fifth-grader doesn’t have the sophistication to read between the lines and figure out that “Mother” in Cheaper by the Dozen was essentially a simply drawn foil for the over-exuberant “Dad.” But, the charm of the book stuck with me and led me to investigate the actual lives and professions of Dr. and Mr. Gilbreth many years later.

Though, no, I’ve never been able to use a tesseract.

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3 thoughts on “Fifth Grade Reading

  1. We were read to in both fourth and fifth grades, and it was what I remember best, I think.

    I acted in high school in the sequel to Cheaper by the Dozen, called Belles on Their Toes — I played Tom, the handyman. Heinlein makes a reference in Methuselah’s Children to ‘therbligs’ — a concept the Gilbreths invented for their time-motion studies.

  2. Yes, Heinlein sure was familiar with the Gilbreths’ work. I remember getting very excited running across the term when I first read it, as it was my first conscious encounter with an author having read the same things I had.

    I bet you had a great time playing Tom. Quite a character, he.

  3. When we had our cottage at Fair Haven, Mom said no TV in the summer. So, we read. And for half an hour at night, she read to us as well. My sixth grade teacher read to us (Amos Fortune, for one). Few pleasures are quite as wonderful. I read both those books – Cheaper and Belles on Their Toes- when I was probably the same age as you were having them read to you. I loved them.

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