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Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2014. $20.99 ages 8 and up

"Teenage Peter was tall,
thin - and very shy. He
spent hours reading science
books. He especially liked
one written by Linnaeus,
a man who made lists just
like Peter did. Linnaeus put
the names of animals and
plants in categories, and that
made nature much easier to

I'm sure that I have no new words that have not already been shared to describe this spectacular new book from the impressive and much honored Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet. You will not get past the title page before realizing that you are in for a treat! In fact, I spent a great deal of time right there, in well-deserved admiration for everything that Ms. Sweet has placed on that page. The letters of the alphabet, images to match those letters, a set of labels to describe the title page itself. Wonderful to say the least!

Peter Roget loved lists. This dynamic team use that love of words to build a story that immerses its audience in his life from birth to death:



Grown Up
Middle Age
Prime of Life
To Wind Up
Draw to an End



He loved books, words, and being alone to think. As he made his lists and considered their importance to him, he decided that he would like to have a book that listed all those words a person might choose to use. The idea for a thesaurus became paramount to his thinking and his work. The process was slow and tedious, but he was persistent and focused on the task he had set for himself.

Each page has plenty of text that helps a reader understand what life was like for the young boy. At no time does it overwhelm with information. It does give us a clever and enlightening glimpse into the keen interest that helped him as a student, and filled his days. His mother showed concern for him, and his endless lists. Peter loved the order they gave to his world.

His thesaurus was not his only accomplishment; Peter was also a lecturer on many and varied issues, a writer, and an inventor. His first thesaurus was published in 1852 and has never been out of print. Of course, it has been added to in the intervening years. His legacy and his belief in the power of words is evident at every turn of the page; at times, shared with a touch of fun. His mother often worried when he spent long periods of time on his own.

"Perhaps worry wasn't quite the right word.
What was the right word?
Peter began a new list:

Plague, provoke, harass.
ENOUGH to drive one MAD.

How wonderful it felt to find just the right word!"

This is an extraordinary book. Its story is told with compassion for a young loner, and with joy and inspiration for those who will share it. I hope that you look for it in your local bookstore or at the library, and that you give yourself ample time to savor the words and immerse yourself in the images that Melissa Sweet creates to accompany the rich text.

An Author's Note explains the research process that resulted in this truly amazing book, and why she wanted to write it:

"When I began to poke around in the real, historical details of Roget's life, I discovered that it encompassed more drama and contradictions than anything I'd written about in fiction. His transient and often lonely childhood, his precocious intellect and nervous habits, his friendships with inventors, his travels, and his medical career - all of these combined to create a broad and fascinating life that I wanted to share with young people."

An Illustrator's Note also adds interest:

"The idea of classification and scientific illustration crept into my collages, along with imagery from Roget's Bridgewater Treatise, old botanicals, vintage papers, book covers, type drawers, watercolor and mixed media. The back endpapers list Roget's thousand words with an abbreviated Plan of Classification."

Additional praiseworthy backmatter includes a chronology, selected bibliography, suggested additional reading, sources for the quotes used, and even a photo of one of the pages from his original work.

You NEED to have this book. You really do!

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