The Right Word by Jen Bryant

BookendsLynn:  When I first heard about The Right Word:  Roget and His Thesaurus (Eerdmans 2014) I KNEW I would love it.  The winning team of Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet AND the story of Peter Roget – a shy boy who loved words and made lists!  I’ve now read the book in falling- apart galley form and it is far better than I even imagined it would be.  This truly is a book that will be cherished by readers, writers and artists of all ages.

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, by Jen Bryant and Melissa SweetThrough lovely writing and pictures a portrait emerges of a shy quiet boy who found refuge in books, observing the world and finding ways to put it in order.  Choosing just the right word brought comfort as well as satisfaction to Peter as he and his widowed mother moved often.  At only fourteen, Peter entered medical school, emerging a doctor at the age of nineteen!  Throughout the interim job of tutoring and his medical practice, Roget continued to keep his lists of words finally publishing it in 1852 at the urging of his children.  The book became extremely popular and today Roget and Thesaurus are almost interchangeable!  I was amazed by Jen Bryant’s story of this remarkable man.  Did you know that he also invented the slide rule among other things?  The back matter is wonderful too and includes author and illustrator notes, a timeline and additional resources.

Then there are Melissa Sweet’s stunning illustrations which practically leave me speechless.  I’ll let Cindy tell you about those and just close by saying that this book has left me searching my battered thesaurus for just the right elusive words to express how much I love it.  The best I can do for now is a “treasure.”

Cindy: “Treasure” is a fitting word, Lynn, since “Thesaurus” means “treasure house” in Greek. This is definitely a book made for people like Lynn and me who love etymology and list making with an equal white hot passion but there is lots for young readers to love and for teachers to use. The book opens with this great quote from J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, describing the character Captain Hook:

“The man is not wholly evil–he has a thesaurus in his cabin.”

Science teachers will appreciate that Roget read a lot of science books and was an admirer of Linnaeus, known for organism classification. Peter was very interested in the natural world in addition to his interest in medicine. English teachers will embrace it for its support of being precise in language. Art teachers who do not already know Melissa Sweet’s superb collage artwork will be new fans. Her collection of unique materials and her artful use of them is perfect for the man who collected unique words and organized them for the edification of others. Teachers in any subject and any grade will think of creative ways to tie this book into list-making in their classes. With the current focus on vocabulary acquisition in education, Roget is a man to admire, applaud, appreciate, cherish, credit, commend, extol, hail, honor, idolize, laud, marvel at, praise, prize, respect, revere, treasure, worship…

Don’t miss the list of principal events to discover the other contributions Roget made. In addition to inventing the slide rule he invented the first pocket chess set, was a subject in laughing gas experiments, worked on an early model of the refrigerator, and wrote a scientific paper about his observations of moving carriage wheel spokes that is “widely regarded as one of the founding principles of modern cinematography.” The endpapers at the back of the book contain Sweet’s tiny handwriting of all 1000 words in his list of ideas to organize his Thesaurus. This spread would make a great classroom poster, Eerdmanns….just sayin’. The Right Word is a treasure house…from cover to cover.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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