The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey by Alexis O’Neill, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. Calkins Creek, 2020. 9781684371983
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4.5
What did you like about the book? I’m curious what kid readers will think about this odd man, the Marie Kondo of his era. Librarians know of his contributions and his foibles, which were many. O’Neill depicts Dewey as a hyper focused, almost maniacally efficient and hardworking advocate for free libraries and consistent shelving plans. She makes a good case for Dewey filling an important need, promoting women as librarians (partly because they could be paid less!) and helping to create a library association for service to children. And I like that his foibles are exposed: that he was controlling, demanding, and manipulative. I think kids will enjoy hearing about his push to simplify spelling, even changing his name from Melville to Melvil. The dynamic digital art uses realistic and fantastical elements to portray this man who was a force of nature, and the generous use of words in bold helps to characterize his personality as well. The substantial back matter makes this book report-worthy, including an author’s note, which elaborates on Dewey’s worst traits, namely his antisemitism, racism and sexism. There is a timeline, information about his other reform ideas (shorthand, metric reform, spelling reform), a bit about DDC, and a bibliography.
Anything you didn’t like about it? I would have liked a complete list of the Dewey Decimal system in the back matter. I guess I would have preferred listing his worst traits in the body of the text, instead of in the back matter, but I bet it was a tough decision where to put it.
To whom would you recommend this book? For ages 6-10. For budding library nerds?!
Who should buy this book? Elementary school and public libraries
Where would you shelve it ? Biography
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA
Date of review: February 5, 2021