Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus

The Right Word:
Roget And His Thesaurus
by Jen Bryant
illustrated by Melissa Sweet

The seven year old is an incurable list-maker and has been that way for over four years now, initially asking me to act as the scribe, and then taking over when he could form the letters himself.

So when he read about Peter Mark Roget and his obsessive list-making which led to the publishing of the world famous Roget's Thesaurus, he felt suitably vindicated and totally impressed.

Spare text captures the essence of this intelligent, shy, yet passionate human being who gave us the authoritative reference for the right word: Roget's Thesaurus, which has been continuously in print to this day.

With an unstable childhood, moving often, and losing his father at a young age, Peter Mark Roget didn't make friends easily. But, he discovered that books were his constant friends: no matter where he went, they went with him. They were always there. By nineteen he earned his degree to be a medical doctor, but he was too young to practice medicine.

Eventually, he established practice in London and did well, all the while working on his list of words. He was particular about using the right word for the right occasion. In addition to inventing the slide rule and portable chess set, Peter set about compiling the Thesaurus, as he called it -- the Greek word meaning "Treasure House."

The text artfully reinforces Roget's facility and passion for the right word. When his mother seemingly badgers him about getting fresh air or exercise or nap or eating some more, Roget quickly answers with a "Mama, I'm fine." But then, we read:

Although, to be honest, Peter thought fine wasn't quite the right word. 

And the illustrations show Peter's silhouette contemplating the buoyant words on the one side and the not-so on the other.

Glad, Cheerful, Well, Dandy, Splendid, Never Better, Content...
Middling, Not-so-bad, So-so...

The mixed media collages and watercolor artwork is exuberant and meticulous. I had to pause at every page to take in all the details. Interspersing panels with full page art, and incorporating vintage elements like botanical illustrations and ledger paper backgrounds, Ms. Sweet has created a rich presentation that not just complements the text but adds a new dimension to the story.

[Jen Bryant's video about when she learned that the book won the 2015 Sibert Informational Book Medal]

[SevenImp interview with illustrator Melissa Sweet]

[Look Inside the Book at Eerdman's]

[image source: Eerdman's product catalog]

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