The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey

Calkins Creek. Nov. 2020. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781684371983.
Gr 2-5–Melvil Dewey, the white American librarian credited with creating the Dewey Decimal Classification, is depicted as equal parts brilliant and obnoxious. The narrative begins with Dewey as a child, obsessively organizing his mother’s pantry and keeping records of his height and weight. Preoccupied with books, learning, and systems of organizations, young Dewey wanted to leave his mark on the world. After observing the rising number of immigrants to the United States, he concluded that books can help people educate themselves, but they must find the right books. He resolved to work on a method to make libraries consistent in their organization and eventually invented the Dewey Decimal System. He decided to create a school to train librarians at Columbia College (now University), where he worked as the chief librarian and helped start the American Library Association. Despite the legacy and information organization system he left behind, O’Neill makes it clear that Dewey was not an easy person to be around. Obsessive and detail-oriented to a fault, he moved forward like a freight train of ideas, with little consideration of how his ideas might impact those around him. The breathless, run-on quality of O’Neill’s prose, combined with Fotheringham’s energetic digital illustrations, evoke a well-rounded portrait of a complicated man. An author’s note details the impact of Dewey’s mistreatment of women and how his racist, anti-Semitic views affected his career and reputation later in life. A time line, additional facts, photographs, and a source list are also appended.
VERDICT This refreshingly honest title is recommended for collections where picture book biographies are in demand.

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