Prather’s Pick: The first thesaurus |

Prather’s Pick: The first thesaurus

Diane Prather
Diane Prather
Courtesy Photo

“The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus,” this week’s nonfiction book for kids, has received two awards — The Robert F. Sibert Medal and the Caldecott Honor for illustration.

The intriguing book was written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. It is published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (2014).

“The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus,” by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Most of us have a “Roget’s Thesaurus” on our bookshelves and use it on a regular basis, and this week’s biography is the story of the man who wrote the first thesaurus. Peter Mark Roget was born in 1779, and when he was 8 years old he began writing lists. He even put them in a book that he titled “Peter, Mark, Roget. His Book.” The first list was of Latin words that he learned from his tutor. He wrote them in one column and the English meanings next to them in the next column.

He kept right on adding lists to the book — lists of all kinds of things. When he learned about Linnaeus, a biologist who worked on a classification system for living things, Roget walked across London, making a list of plants and animals. He also made lists of the “right” words for things.

It’s all in the book, as well as his schooling, which ended up with Peter becoming a doctor by the age of 19. He was married and had a family, too, but he never gave up his lists. Peter’s first book with lists of more than 15,000 words was published in 1805. In 1852, he published his first thesaurus. It sold like hot cakes. The updated “Roget’s Thesaurus” is still used today.

In her “Author’s Note,” Jen Bryant explains that she read an early edition of “Roget’s Thesaurus,” arranged by concepts and ideas, and that’s how she came to research his life. A page from his original word book is found at the back of this week’s book.

What makes this book so intriguing is the artwork, created with watercolor, collage, vintage papers, book covers, old botanicals and more. The back-of-the-book endpapers are a list of Roget’s one thousand words. On one two-page spread, the roofs of some of the houses are made from paper cut from some of Roget’s lists. The people and houses in the illustration are made from watercolors. In other illustrations there are word blocks, lettering of different styles and sizes, lots of plants and animals and more — you just have to see it.

At the end of the book there’s a “List of Principal Events” and notes from author and illustrator. The author and illustrator have written and illustrated other books and have won awards for their work.

This is an amazing — or is the “right” word astounding, fantastic, great or marvelous? — book. It costs $17.50 in hardcover, or you can find the book in the children’s room at the Moffat County Library.

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