A story for

every ten- or eleven-year old boy and girl who would like to have their own secret language

and everyone who ever was ten or eleven years old and wanted to have their own secret language

Peter Jameson's Secret Language
Sylvan Zaft
Bela Lingvo Press, Farmington, Michigan, USA. (1996)
ISBN 0-9652549-0-9






Peter Jameson and his friends at Cardiff Elementary School want to have their own secret language so that the grown-ups won't be able to understand what they are saying.  After a long search they find a language they can begin to use after just one week of study.

However, when the friends start using their secret language in school, some of the other kids begin to treat them as though they have suddenly become very different.   Fights break out.  The principal clamps down with an order of "English Only!"

Peter and his friends have to decide whether to give up something that has become very precious to them or fight for the right to use their own special language.

Children's Fiction

The Many Dimensions of
Peter Jameson's Secret Language

Around the age of ten or eleven boys and girls become interested in secret codes and in secret languages.  Some boys and girls even make up their own languages.  Peter Jameson's Secret Language speaks to those children as well as to today's adults who were those children.

In test readings most of the fifty readers, from the ages of ten to eighty-four, read their copy of the manuscript in one sitting.  A few children found the book a bit slow at the beginning.  Like the novels of an earlier era, Peter Jameson takes a few pages to set a foundation for the increasingly gripping tale that is to follow.

Some of the elements that carry readers along are the reality of the settings in "the classrooms, hallways, cafeterias, administrative offices and other areas of Cardiff Elementary School" and the strength of character of both Peter and his friends and those they struggle against.

The Swiss psychotherapist, translator and novelist, Claude Piron, writes, "As a psychologist I value very highly the way in which you depict what goes on in the minds of children and adults.  This is how the minds of people work."

Peter Jameson imports important themes into what at first appears to be a comfortable suburban setting.  The novel shows how human beings deal with conflict which involves some of the highest authority figures in their lives.  The theme of the unjust authority figures intrigues adults as well as children.

Beneath the surface of the story the struggle over the right to use the secret language at Cardiff Elementary can be understood as a metaphor for all those peoples who in many countries and in many ages have had to struggle for the right to use their own language.  As Piron has shown in Le défi des langues, language is an essential component of identity.  Peter Jameson's Secret Language caused Edwin Grobe, a retired professor of French in Arizona, to recall the plight of Indian children of many tribes who were forbidden to speak their native tongues in boarding schools which the government forced them into.

Along with the conflict with authority figures, the novel deals with conflict between children, between children who act in such a way as to define themselves as being different and children who pressure others to conform, between Peter who comes from a happy family and Carl who comes from an abusive household. How these conflicts are reconciled adds weight to the story.

Peter Jameson's Secret Language is an essentially happy book with a happy ending.  This happy ending grows out of the strength of character that Peter and his friends show when they decide to stand up to fellow students, to teachers and to the principal in ways that at the same time are bold and constructive, and also very effective.



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