Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant

A biography of the classifier of synonyms is not a subject you would expect to find in a picture book format. But this visual approach to Roget's life works astonishingly well. Every element of the busy pages invites further exploration. This may explain how the book received the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children for 2014.

Young Peter is pictured as a quiet and private but passionately enthusiastic boy who will appeal to many similar readers. His childhood lists become the basis of the book that made him famous. The author suggests that the word lists were comforting in a childhood of frequent moves after his father died. His full and happy life is covered in the course of the book and there is a time-line at the end to clarify details and add the context of major political events.

Roget's character in The Right Word reminded me of Harriet in Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy. They share that geeky focus and intensity and capacity for being alone. Carl Linnaeus: Father of Classification by Margaret Anderson is a biography of another famous organizer of knowledge, though as a series book it is not as exuberantly original as The Right Word.

Review by Carolyn Caywood, retired from VBPL

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