About the Holiday
Today we celebrate that most marvelous, stupendous, spectacular, cool, awe-inspiring, remarkableand—one from my early youth—groovy book, the thesaurus! Without its incredible cross-referenced lists of synonyms and antonyms, the world would be much more boring, dull, lackluster, monotonous place. Today, spice up your speech and writing with the perfect word to express all the nuances of life!
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
Written by Jen Bryant | Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
While just a young child, Peter, along with his mother, his uncle, and his baby sister Annette, travel to their new home following the death of his father. It would not be his first move, and in the absence of long-time friends, Peter found companionship in books. When he was eight years old, he began writing his own book titled: Peter, Mark, Roget. His Book. But this was not a book of stories or even one story; it was a book of lists. The first list was divided in two. On one side were the Latin words he knew; on the other were their definitions.
Peter’s mother hovered and worried over her son, and he always told her he was “fine.” “Although, to be honest, Peter thought, fine wasn’t quite the right word.” As the years went by, Peter added lists to his book, prompting his mother to complain about his constant “scribbling.” But Peter looked at his lists differently. “Words, Peter learned, were powerful things. And when he put them in long, neat rows, he felt as if the world itself clicked into order.”
As a teenager Peter was shy, preferring to wander the London gardens alone, “making lists of all the plants and insects,” as in one of his favorite science books by Linnaeus. His “mother didn’t approve, and Peter told her not to worry—but “perhaps worry wasn’t quite the right word. What was the right word? Peter began a new list: Worry, fret, grieve, despair, intrude, badger, annoy, plague, provoke, harass. Enough to drive one mad. How wonderful it felt to find just the right word.”
An idea crept into Peter’s mind for a book where “all the ideas in the world could be found in one place,” and people could “find the best word, the one that really fit.” When Peter was 14 he entered medical school in Edinburgh, Scotland. Upon graduation at 19, his uncle told him that patients would be wary of a doctor so young. To gain a bit of experience and maturity, Peter became a tutor to two teenage boys.
At last Peter set up his medical practice in Manchester, England, where he took care of the factory workers, who “were poor and often sick.” At night Peter worked on his book of lists, and in 1805 he declared it finished. “It had about one hundred pages, one thousand ideas, and listed more than fifteen thousand words!” Eventually, Peter moved back to London where he joined science societies and attended lectures. “Before long, he was asked to give lectures too,” and once-shy Peter astonished his audiences with his knowledge of math, magnetism, and other scientific subjects. He even invented a portable chess set.
When Peter was 45 years old, he married Mary Hobson, and they had two children, Kate and John. As he grew older, he visited fewer patients, but he continued to take walks and work on his lists. While some other writers had published their own word lists to help people “to speak and to write more politely,” Kate and John “thought their father’s book was much better. Peter agreed.” For three years he rewrote his book. “He made it larger, more organized, and easier to use. Long ago Peter had discovered the power of words. Now he believed that everyone should have this power—everyone should be able to find the right word whenever they needed it.”
“In 1852, Roget published his Thesaurus, a word that means ‘treasure house’ in Greek.” It was an instant best seller, and Peter became a popular author. But he never stopped making lists.
Following the text, a timeline of principal events in Peter’s life as well as world events allow readers to better understand the historical period in which Peter worked. Extensive Author’s and Illustrator’ Notes also expand on Roget’s biography, and resources for further reading and research are included.
Jen Bryant’s biography of a brilliant boy who grew up to give the world its most fascinating and comprehensive collection of word lists, is a spritely telling of Roget’s life and revelation into his personality, which was perfectly suited to his scientific and written accomplishments. Children will appreciate Roget’s reactions to his mother’s worries as well as the message in his well-rounded pursuit of science and writing. Through Bryant’s captivating and lyrical storytelling, children will be inspired by Roget’s journey from shy child to much-accomplished adult.
Melissa Sweet beguiles readers with her mixed media, collage, and watercolor illustrations that are as jam-packed with ideas, images, portraits, and typography as Roget’s thesaurus is full of words. In the early pages describing Peter’s childhood, the pages contain simple framed pictures of Roget and his family. As he grows, however, his lists of words are transformed into vibrant artwork that jostles for position from corner to corner of the pages. In the midst of these, delicate watercolors portray Peter as he strolls through a garden, takes his young charges to Paris, treats his patients, lectures, marries, and finally publishes his thesaurus. A special mention must be made of the typography, which at times in the text runs down the center of the page in one- or two-word lines, mirroring Roget’s love of lists, and in the illustrations presents the myriad synonyms in a mixture of colorful block letters, fine print, and calligraphy.
For bibliophiles, wordsmiths, scientists, and history buffs, The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus is just the right book for home libraries.
Ages 6 – 18
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2014 | ISBN 978-0802853851
Discover more about Jen Bryant and her books as well as news, contests, and events, visit her website!
Learn more about Melissa Sweet and her books and have fun with the downloadable activities you’ll find on her website!
Watch this The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus book trailer!
Thesaurus Day Activity
Word Words Word Search Puzzle
Picture Book Review