Kitchen of Wonder

  • Monica Kulling and David Parkins (Illustrator)
    Spic-and-Span!: Lillian Gilbreth's Wonder Kitchen. Tundra Books (purchase at
  • Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad (Illustrator)
    Julia, Child. Tundra Books (purchase at
Reviewed by Erin MacWilliams

In two children’s books about the magic of kitchens, a fictionalised young Julia Child and the real efficiency expert Lillian Gilbreth offer alternative possibilities for domestic space. Kyo Maclear’s imagined Julia, Child cooks up recipes for delight with her best friend Simca, experimenting with dishes and taking cooking classes together. They attempt to transfer their own joyful exuberance and friendship into a community meal for “big, busy people” who need to reclaim their youthful spirit. When their first meal does not go as expected, they readjust the ingredients and try again, producing petits gateâux and a cookbook about mastering the art of childhood. While the story is lovely, and will entertain adult readers (and cooks!) as well as children six and over, it is the beautiful illustrations by Julie Morstad that energise this tale. Combining black and white line drawings, including a carefully rendered kitchen pegboard, with delicate gouache colours, the images evoke the imaginative potential of both cooking and play. Morstad captures the adults’ release from being “weighed down with worries” thanks to the work of Julia and Simca by slowly adding colour to the adults’ figures. Each page has carefully rendered details that encourage exploration and repeated and immersive viewing. Julia, Child is a work that transports.

Monica Kulling’s Spic-and-Span! Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchenhighlights the innovation of Lillian Moller Gilbreth, the time-motion expert, psychologist, and inventor most notably chronicled in Frank B. Gilbreth Jr., and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey’s 1948 Cheaper by the Dozen. In contrast to Cheaper by the Dozen’s focus on the exploits of Lillian’s husband and children, this non-fiction picture book details Lillian Gilbreth’s career following her husband’s death. The title is poorly chosen, as it suggests Gilbreth’s labour in kitchens involved cleaning rather than engineering and design. In her text, however, Kulling emphasizes Gilbreth’s independence and perseverance in finding ways to support her eleven children in a 1920s work environment that was unwelcoming towards women. Chronicling her innovations in kitchen layout and appliances, the narrative offers the stories behind each new advance, details that encourage the reader to seek their own creative solutions to make daily life both happier (a goal of Gilbreth) and more efficient. David Parkins’ illustrations are rich with period detail, offering important context to young readers unfamiliar with the technology and homes of the 1920s. The appeal of this sixth book in Tundra’s Great Ideas series is that it shares Lillian Gilbreth’s story of achievement with a new audience and shows the domestic sphere as a place of ingenuity, locating science and engineering in private as well as public space. Although the story prioritizes fact-telling over entertainment value, young readers with an interest in history or educators seeking to share tales of women in science and engineering will enjoy Spic-and-Span!

This review “Kitchen of Wonder” originally appeared in Agency & Affect. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 223 (Winter 2014): 171-72.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.

Canadian Literature is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.