I’ve reviewed enough books by the dynamic duo of Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet to feel completely inadequate to do their books justice. Part of this is because their style and approach doesn’t vary, so in some ways if you’ve seen one of their books you’ve seen them all. However, the subjects of their picture book biographies must (of course) be considered: any logophile should consider their latest offering, The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, a must-read. After the beautiful endpapers and title page, this book begins with a comment from Barrie’s Peter Pan about Captain Hook:
“The man is not wholly evil–he has a thesaurus in his cabin.”
This, of course, captivated me, and I was primed. Okay, but who, exactly, was this man–Peter Mark Roget? All I knew, and I really didn’t even know I knew this, is that he was French. (The name gives this away, right?) The page facing the quote is a brief timeline of his life–a series of hand-drawn portraits of him, bracketed by his “dash” and a succession of words and phrases that describe him at various times in his life: beginning, baby, infant, tadpole, child, youth, lad, youngster, and so on. There’s something very poignant about that column of words and his ninety years that they describe. What follows then is the story of how Roget came to love lists and words and how this shy man came to be the publisher of his own “treasure house,” the Thesaurus we all know today. The story emphasizes his shy nature and the difficulties he faced in making friends, as well as his enjoyment in his list-making:
“How wonderful it felt to find just the right word!”
Jen Bryant‘s text is beautiful and nearly perfect at the sentence-level, as picture book texts must be, and Melissa Sweet‘s accompanying illustrations and typography make this book a true treasure in its own right. Check out Jules’ interview with Melissa Sweet to find out about her process and to see pictures of both her process and her finished product. Highly, Highly Recommended. (Eerdmans, 2014)
This book has been nominated for a 2014 Cybils in the elementary/middle grade nonfiction category.