SPIC-AND-SPAN! Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen – PPBF

spicTitle: SPIC-AND-SPAN! Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen

Written by: Monica Kulling

Illustrated by: David Parkins

Published by: Tundra Books, 2014

Themes/Topics: women industrial engineers, inventor, psychologist, Lilian Moller Gilbreth

Suitable for ages: 7-11

Biography, 32 pages

Series: Great Idea Series

Opening: 

The first page is a beautiful three stanza poem, which sets the mood and scene in verse, but I shall quote from the first spread (a huge NJ house and the entire entire family in a splendid turn of the century car), which, like the rest of the story is in rolling prose.

“Lilian and Frank Gilbreth lived in a large house in Montclair,                                              New Jersey, with their eleven children.                                                                           Every Sunday the family loaded up the car and went for a drive.                                            Frank loved to blast the electric horn: “Ahooga!”                                                              People stopped and stared. Eleven Children? Imagine!                                                     “Not too much horn,” Lillian would say. She was a shy woman.”

Synopsis:

Lillian Moller Gilbreth was born into a very privileged Californian family in 1878, but laid that aside to head east, marry Frank Gilbreth, have eleven children and use her skills to improve the quality of life for many. Through studying the actions of local factory workers in New Jersey and by using a motion picture camera to study wasted activity, Lillian and Frank became ‘efficiency experts’ whose expertise was sought after both at home and abroad. With eleven children to care for, home-life also had to become as efficient as possible, though never heartless.

In 1924, Frank died suddenly while on his way to Europe to give a speech about the motion-studies field. Lillian, never one to run from hard work, went ahead and gave the speech herself and then returned to pick up the pieces and challenge of being a single mom of eleven seeking employment. Eventually Macy’s, the largest store in the US at the time, hired Lillian to improve their cash-room functioning. This was a very progressive move on the part of Macy’s considering the place of women in the workplace in the 1920’s.

Having sold the car and let the cook go, Lillian and her kids also had to pull together to keep home running smoothly. Once again Lilian’s engineer’s brain soon set to work on making her old-fashioned kitchen more efficient. You will be surprised to read all that this ergonomics pioneer invented and the influence she had in your kitchen!

There is a postscript page mentioning that Lilian: was the first woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering, has been the subject of two movies and had a US stamp issued in her honor.

Why I like this story:

I confess I have not seen the movies and knew nothing about this highly accomplished, intelligent, creative woman, who used both her knowledge of engineering and psychology to improve the work environment in factories and kitchens worldwide. This is a text heavy picture book, and deservedly so, in order to truly tell this remarkable story. The poetic prose full of human details will retain the attention of any reader or listener. It was a biographical page-turner and a thrill to read about someone about whom I knew nothing but whose work is still impacting kitchen design even today. I am very eager to read more in this series and highly recommend this book to school librarians and teachers. Definitely a book to add to any classroom inventors project.

I also love the book designer’s choice of making the removable cover into a poster. They so often get torn or taken off by children anyway!

Activities/Resources:

With grade 4 and 5 children, I would put them in pairs and give them a photocopy of an old-fashioned kitchen and ask them to list or draw some of the ergonomic aspects that Lillian and others have invented.

With grades 2 and 3, have them draw a design for how they would create a kitchen.

If you can get hold of a copy of the 1950’s film, CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN, about the Gilbreth family in Montclair New Jersey, this could be fun to watch with older children.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

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8 Responses to SPIC-AND-SPAN! Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen – PPBF

  1. I must get a copy of that film. Sounds very interesting. What a pioneering woman she was and it is wonderful to hear of how she has improved our kitchens etc… Remarkable, a must read for sure. Loved the title! Thanks Joanne for sharing.

  2. I was going to say, I hadn’t heard about Lilian Gilbreth, but I watched as a child and young adult “Cheaper By the Dozen.” I remember the family being very efficient. In fact every time I shower I remember how the father found a timely way to use a shower and not waste water.

    Wow, I this is my kind of story and will have to check it out. I didn’t realize how much the mother did. Didn’t realize the movie was based on a real family. Thank you for you thorough review! I enjoyed it and am intrigued.

  3. barb says:

    I’ve never heard of Lilian Gilbreth either. Her story sounds absolutely fascinating!

  4. Cheaper By the Dozen was a favorite movie of mine as a kid, and I wonder if I didn’t get my interest in efficiency’ from that film! I can’t wait to read this book and learn more about her. I saw an exhibit of an efficient modern kitchen at the MAK in Vienna, and promptly got in trouble for entering it – couldn’t help myself! It was designed around the same time, by a woman as well! More here: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/the-frankfurt-kitchen-small-sp-113421

  5. This looks like a cool book – I’d not heard of Lillian before.

  6. Erik - TKRB says:

    This sounds marvelous, and inspiring to anyone! 😀

  7. I must check this out. I adored Monica’s Tweedles story, and I want to find out how anyone with 11 kids had the time to do anything else, like engineering. 🙂

  8. rhythm says:

    Well, what a unique subject for a PB! I love stories about fascinating ladies. We recently came across a lot of books by Ms Kulling – all with this same look and feel. I’m going to have to sniff her out a bit more! Thanks Ms Marple!

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