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My father introduced me to Cheaper By The Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey when I was in grade school but it wasn’t until I was in college that I got to see The Shoe—the improbably little house on Nantucket Island where the 12 children in the Gilbreth clan spent their summers. Frank Gilbreth was a renowned efficiency expert and he believed in taking every opportunity, and in using every surface, to educate his children. The walls of the rooms were covered with planets and charts, labels and lists, because he felt there was no reason education had to stop just because the table had to be set or teeth had to be brushed. Information seen every day could not help but percolate into young brains, smoothing the way for adventures in more traditional education. My father loved this book and, in addition to occasionally calling his car “Foolish Carriage,” he indulged in his own form of perpetual education.

In all the time I knew him, my father never answered a question or made a comment without employing a quotation if it would serve his purpose. On the way to do something he deemed odious, like yard work or grocery shopping, or when sending me off to finish homework or, say, a graduate thesis, he would paraphrase Jeeves paraphrasing Macbeth and say, “If it must be done, ‘twere best it be done quickly.” Lady Catherine de Bourgh was a favorite; Jane Austen’s snooty aristocrat was invoked whenever he discovered we were doing something new—“Had I learned to (skate, swim, sew, play lacrosse), I would have been a great proficient” or when simply entering a room, “I must have my share of the conversation.” The chorus of groans in response gave him great satisfaction but I won’t deny that when finally reading those classics for myself, they had the immediate appeal of the familiar. I had grown up with them, after all.

All of this ran through my head when Jennifer Adams’s BabyLit series of satisfyingly thick board books were brought to my attention. Classic literature distilled down to the barest essence of word and image for the very teeny tiny set; both my father and Mr. Gilbreth would be proud. With bright, vintage-y graphics by Alison Oliver, Adams has created a clever, visual introduction to famous literature that includes Alice In Wonderland, Jane Eyre, Romeo And Juliet, Pride And Prejudice, and even Dracula (still in the works). Itty bitties will absorb highlights of the stories—a bat in the Mad Hatter’s teacup or the lone figure in the window of Thornfield Hall—while their well-read adults are treated to reminders of the original sources. These are gorgeous little gems that will not only add some amusing cachet to your baby’s bookshelf but perhaps also sprinkle the tiniest seeds for their future enjoyment of literary classics. It certainly can’t hurt.

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