Friday, November 14, 2014

The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus

As a reader, I have always loved words - how they are created, what they mean.  I love that Frances and Gloria are beginning to learn those skills too - how words strung together can make magic happen in your heart and imagination.  Frances and I have been reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and she loves it.  She always sighs when we stop.  She tells me that it's "just getting interesting".  And Gloria listens intently, and when we come to a word she's curious about, she makes me stop reading until I've shown her the word and defined it.  Words can bring us together.  At work, my job has shifted away from librarianship and into IT.  But I'm still involved with the creation of a thesaurus for the agency.  Words never desert us.

That is never more evident than in The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus.  Peter Roget is a very young boy when his father dies.  After that, he and his family move around quite often, which leaves him lonely.  But what keeps him from feeling so lonely are his books.  "There were always plenty of them around, and he never had to leave them behind."  And eventually Roget begins to create lists of these words.  "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."  Eventually, Roget realized the power in having a list of exactly the right word for the right situation and decided to create one himself to help people with just that problem.

The first compilation of word lists Roget created contained more than 15,000 words!  He was also a doctor, tinkered with inventions, and tutored in a wide range of subjects when he was a young man.  But his passion was for that book of word lists.  So he kept improving it.  When it was finally published in 1852, people wanted it immediately.  It was ultimately a successful book, but Roget continued to strive to make that thesaurus better and better.

I have to admit that I am a huge Melissa Sweet fan.  One of the years I served on the Cybils Picture Book Nonfiction judging panel, we were lucky enough to consider two of her titles during our considerations - Balloons Over Broadway and Mrs. Harkness and the Panda.  I adore her whimsical collages and, the way she creates them so thoughtfully.  When I saw this book at the library, and realized that the text was written by Jen Bryant, I knew I had to read it.  Bryant has created some poetic, beautifully written biographies.  This title wowed me just as much as I suspected.  Whoever came up with the idea of having these two collaborate on this book was a genius!

From the very first page, Sweet has filled the collages with words and letters.  The title page spread features a structure built with wooden blocks.  Interspersed with the traditional blocks are blocks that feature letters in different sizes and fonts.  Letters are incorporated from the very beginning.  The title block is created on lined cards, with cataloging information next to the title, author and other information.  So right at the start, Sweet emphasizes the text and put importance on Roget's beloved words.  The very last pages, really the endpapers, are a recreation by Sweet of Roget's first thesaurus.  It is an amazing way to complete the journey, with a new appreciation of the work that went into creating the thesaurus.

Bryant also often allows Sweet's illustrations to take center stage.  Bryant describes Roget's baby sister Annette in this way: "Baby Annette slept in Mother's arms, a small pink blossom against a wall of black."  It is poetic, encompassing the fragility of a baby, and Annette's humanity in contrast to her grieving mother's black clothing.  The illustration is just as starkly poignant as the text, with Peter peering out of a coach window and a pink blossom cascading down the page against a background of velvety black. Across from that illustration is a graphic showing the family's travel from Bern, Switzerland to London, England after Peter's father died.

The back matter is just as fascinating and exquisite as the rest of the book Roget began by making a list of the main events in his life, entitled "List of Principal Events".  Bryant takes this list one step further and adds in world events to give Roget's life historical context.  There are also author and illustrator notes, where Bryant and Sweet describe how Roget's work inspired them.  Finally, there is a page that includes a selected bibliography, a list of titles for additional reference and the source of quotations in the text.  The back matter helps solidify this glorious book as a work of art and nonfiction.  I learned so much from this book about a man whose book I had often used but never marveled over.  Roget's thesaurus is a work of imagination as well as classification.

The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus .  Jen Bryant; Melissa Sweet.  Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2014.

Borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library

Friday, November 7, 2014

Atlantia and a GIVEAWAY!!!

This post includes a super exciting giveaway at the end, but don't just skip down to the end to enter.  All right, skip right down to the end to enter, but come right back to read what I have to say about Atlantia.

First of all, I had never read a book by Ally Condie before, although I had certainly heard of her, and I knew her books.  But they came out at a time that I was a little worn out with dystopian books, so I just hadn't gotten around to reading them yet.  Even though I hadn't read the Matched series, I still knew I should grab the chance when Penguin offered me an Advanced Reader's Copy of Atlantia.  I had been seeing advance publicity, and I was excited to read something so popular before it came out.

I was sucked into the world of Atlantia right away, and barely came up to breathe.  Rio and her twin sister Bay have been raised by their mother, Oceana, Below, in Atlantia.  Below is the privileged place to live - when it was created deep under the ocean, families Above sent one member down to survive.  The rest of the family remained Above, exposed to terrible pollution.  The people Above provide all the food; the people Below provide all the ore out of their underwater mines.

The balance has been kept between Above and Below.  One child in each family must stay Below; all those who choose the Above select a life of sacrifice.  They also have no contact with the Below.  As soon as they make their choice, they are whisked away, without even a chance to say goodbye to their family Below.  Rio has always dreamt of going Above.  For her, the life of sacrifice and lack of contact are a trade-off for the experiences of air and land.  And she has always known that her sister Bay will stay Below with their mother.

But not long before the ceremony where Bay and Rio will announce their choice, their mother dies.  In an odd turn of events, she died on her sister Maire's doorstep, and there is no real reason Oceana should have died.  Oceana had very little contact with her sister, Maire, so it is especially odd that she died there, as if she was going to tell Maire something.  Maire is a siren, and sirens are treated very carefully in Atlantia.  They are believed to be a miracle, but their voices are so commanding and seductive.  Like the sirens of mythology, people must beware of them.  The sirens must report to the Council as children, and are used for the Council's work.  Because of their seductive singing, the Minister must prove themselves strong enough to resist the sirens and their call.  Maire has always been stronger than the other sirens, and is more of a wild card.  There are fewer and fewer sirens in Atlantia.  And Rio holds a secret that only two other people know - that she is a siren too.

The twists start coming early on in this novel.  Within the first chapter, everything Rio has ever known or believed about her twin, Bay, is challenged and turned upside down.  While Rio is reeling from this stunning knowledge, the only family she has left is Maire.  Knowing that Maire is a powerful siren, and knowing that Oceana never told Maire about Rio's power, Rio is faced with another decision - can she trust Maire with her secret?

I couldn't stop reading this novel.  I read it on the Kindle app, and found it much easier to lose track of how much I've read when there aren't any page numbers.  Condie's writing was magical too.  It sets a tone from the first page.  You are with Rio as she discovers the true Atlantia.  She begins to see Atlantia with clear eyes, but they are also eyes clouded with the pain of losing her mother, confusion around her sister and Bay's secrets, and full of the struggle to be herself, even though she must hide her voice.

There is so much to talk about in this book.  I found Condie's world-building fascinating.  Below was created with so many details that are tiny in themselves, but add up to a complete world.  For instance, there are mines in the water surrounding Atlantia, to keep people from trying to escape from the Below.  Atlantia itself was built sort of in the shape of an octopus, with the temple in the middle, and tentacles cascading outwards.  I don't want to talk about anything that might be a spoiler, so I won't say more about Atlantia.  But one thing I thought was important was the humanity of everyone we encounter in Atlantia.  No one (not even the sirens) has fish gills to breathe, or a mermaid tail.  They breathe air pumped into Atlantia, and experience life in much the same way the rest of us do.  If Atlantia wasn't underwater, it might seem a little like an indoor mall.  The evil in this book comes from other humans, not from creatures of the deep.

And there are powerful themes woven throughout this book - family, especially (and obviously) the way sisters interact, truth, power, and control.  The themes are developed delicately, and you truly experience everything through Rio's eyes as she struggles with who she must become.  I really loved this book, and I encourage you all to read it.

If you'd like to read it for yourself, I have an amazing opportunity to win a copy signed by Ally Condie herself!  Penguin Teen has ever so graciously allowed me to give away a copy.  I can't wait to see who wins!  Use the Rafflecopter link here to enter and good luck!  The giveaway ends on November 14th, and I will notify the winner by email.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Atlantia.  Ally Condie.  Penguin, 2014.

sent by the publisher for review