#1315 – MELVIL DEWEY by Alexis O’Neill & Edwin Fotheringham



The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying)
Written by Alexis O’Neill
Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
Calkins Creek—Nov. 2020
40 Pages   Age 2—5

Genre:  Children’s Picture Book, Nonfiction
Themes: Dewey Decimal, Libraries, Efficiency



Melvil Dewey loved order (Organize mother’s jelly jars), efficiency (Why spell his name Melville when Melvil has fewer letters and sounds the same?), and keeping records (Height! Weight! Earnings!).

Melvil also loved books and numbers and decimals. When he realized every library organized their books differently (Size! Title! Color!), he wondered if he could invent a system all libraries could use to ORGANIZE them EFFICIENTLY.

A rat-a-tat speaker, Melvil was a persistent (and noisy) advocate for FREE public libraries. And he made enemies along the way as he pushed for changes. (Like his battle to establish the first library school with WOMEN as students.) Through it all he was EFFICIENT, INVENTIVE, and often ANNOYING as he made big changes in the world of public libraries—changes still found in the libraries of today! (from jacket flap)

Opening Sentences

“Melvil Dewey loves putting things in order. Oh, no—what’s he doing now? He’s organizing the chaos of his mother’s kitchen cupboard. And now the cellar. There. Nice and neat.”

Why I like The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey

To know and possibly understand Melville D—(oops!). Let’s try this again (so annoying).

To know and possibly understand Melvil Dewey, keep a quote of his in mind: “My heart is open to anything that’s either decimal or about libraries.”

Those are what Dewey loves; that and efficiency, hence the changing of his first name (from Melville to Melvil). He loves organization and, as a young man, rearranges his mother’s kitchen shelves. Those loves are what help Melvil Dewey organize library books using his genius idea:  numbers and decimals.

[In the back of the book is a wonderful explanation of his system, by finding a book about elephants. I never realized how genius of a system the DDC really is and still it’s still used today.]

The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey is a biography beginning with Dewey as a young man, pre-college. He wonders what he’ll do with his life, eventually deciding libraries, books, and the decimal point would guide his work. He vows to be efficient in his daily life.

Dewey needs a system of classifying books to see his dream of making libraries accessible for everyone. Every library In Dewey’s time stacks books differently. Some use titles or the author’s name. Others group books by size or the color of the cover. History sits next to Music, Art, and Science. One actually simply stacks its books from the floor to ceiling. (Pull a book out of that mess!) Hence, his Dewey Decimal Classification system.

Dewey does a lot for our library system. He forms the American Library Association and the Children’s Library Association. He began the first school to train librarians. Dewey pushes his ideas and at times others push back, as in the librarian school. Dewey wants women to be librarians, but the trustees at Columbia University refuse to allow women on campus. Only male students, they said. Dewey finds a way.

Dewey was a love-hate man. Some people loved him for all he does for the school and libraries. (And women.) Others hate his pushiness, his controlling, and demanding. In his time, Melvil Dewey accomplishes much. He notices the US taking in a lot of immigrants, all who need to learn English. Dewey decides “Books will give them a good education. Efficiently.” This becomes Dewey’s initial goal, which morphs into many more, all around the libraries, books, the decimal point, and efficiency.

The publisher states the picture book is for children age 2 to 5. Older children will get much out of The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey. Anyone who loves books and libraries will love this informative book. The art is accessible and kid-friendly. Much illustrative detail resides on each spread. The book is also well-researched and written. Important words are printed boldly, making it easier to notice the information. Many concepts and a accomplishments are include, all which children will understand, even if they need a little help.

Wouldn’t it be great for the youngest readers to know how to find a library book? It is a skill we need our entire lives.

The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey is highly recommended—a “Do Not Miss Book.”

Favorite Sentence

Melvil Dewey is quoted a few times. These quotes are amazing, even more so when you know in his later life Dewey harassed women. Dewey’s quote regarding women becoming librarians made my day.

“They (women) have clear heads, strong hands, and great hearts.”

(I’m liking Melvil. So smart!)

To sway the trustees to allow women to enroll in Columbia University and his librarian school, Dewey added:

(women) “will work for less money than men.”

(Not liking him so much anymore. A stupid thing to say.)

Columbia University only wanted men on their campus, refusing to allow women to enroll in Dewey’s library science school. At some point, he is quoted as saying this about librarians.

“To my thinking, a great librarian must have a clear head, a strong hand, and, above all, a great heart . . . and when I look into the future, I am inclined to think that most of the men who achieve this greatness will be women.”

(Okay Melvil, I like you.)

Back Matter

The backmatter adds tremendous value to The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey. Several sections, all of which deserve your interest, is included. (A short description follows.)

“Author’s Note”
The author explains the other side of Melvil Dewey. He harassed women (in his later life), was antisemitic and racist. He excluded Jews, people of religions other than his own and ethnic groups. Because of his acting upon these thoughts, Dewey lost a lot in regards to his accomplishments. He is pushed out of the American Library Association and lost his position as State Librarian of New York. Most of his creations hold steadfast today. Libraries still use the Dewey Decimal Classification system; the American Library Association and the Children’s Library Association remains; librarians still create “Best Books” lists to guide readers to the best books; and formal schools of librarian science still train new librarians each year.

Begins in 1851, the day Melvil Dewey is born. Then his accomplishments and censures are listed by year. In 1876 he copywrites his Dewey Decimal Classification System and starts American Library Association. In 1885 he forms the Children’s Library Association and publishes an updated classification scheme. Andrew Carnegie helps fund 1,689 US public libraries between 1888 to 1919. The lengthy timeline concludes with Dewey’s death in 1931, on December 26th.

“Dewey’s Other Reform Practices”
Outlines the reforms Dewey tried to get the US to adopt. All center on simplicity and efficiency. He wrote most personal notes in a phonetic shorthand, which helped him change his name from Melville to Melvil, but a last name change, from Dewey to Dei, never caught on. People thought this was rather eccentric.

His spelling reform was based on his belief that English could be made easier to learn with spelling simplified. Some were taken up, while others were not.

Dewey also tried to instill metric reform, saying the metric system, based on multiples of ten is easier than the “complicated” units of measurement used in the US (inches, pounds, feet, etc.).

“Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC)”
Probably the best section, the DDC section explains how to use the Dewey Decimal System. The example tries to find the number for a book on elephants. A very informative section everyone should. understand.

“Selected Sources”
Lists resources used to create this book.

Illustrations Rendered in digitally.

To Learn More About the Author Alexis O’Neill: Website
To Learn More About the Illustrator Edwin Fotheringham:  Website


Available at Amazon:  The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey (see a few illustrations)

THE EFFICIENT, INVENTIVE (OFTEN ANNOYING) MELVIL DEWEY. Text Copyright © 2020 by Alexis O’Neill. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Edwin Fotheringham. Published by Calkins Creek/Boyds, Mills &Kane, New York, NY.


Copyright © 2020 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved
[516—word count-review only]

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