The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant with illustrations by Melissa Sweet

NOW A 2015 CALDECOTT HONOR BOOK!

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, (Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, $17.50, Ages 6-10) is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

✩Starred Reviews – Publishers WeeklyKirkus Reviews
Junior Library Guild
Selection

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The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus by Jen Bryant with illustrations by Melissa Sweet, Eerdmans 2014.

List: index, inventory, agenda, series, menu, outline, docket. If you like to make lists, be sure to put this wonderful book about Peter Mark Roget on the top of your next one. A marvelous new nonfiction collaboration from the terrific team of Bryant and Sweet, here is the story of a man whose book resides in countless homes, schools, and libraries. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus will boost your appreciation for this indispensable reading and writing reference tool as well as for the man who created it.

Young Peter’s early life was challenging. His family moved often following his father’s death in 1783, but Peter found that books were always plentiful, faithful friends that he did not have to leave behind. He began writing his own book, a list of Latin words and their English meanings. The list helped him study and gave him a sense of comfort and order while his mother fretted and worried.

Bryant’s lovely, lyrical text walks a well-balanced route through Peter’s shy teen years, medical school, marriage and family. While practicing medicine, Peter continued amassing words until his book of lists was completed. Always collecting, revising and perfecting, Roget’s lifelong dedication eventually created an organized, easy to use tool. In 1852, the first thousand copies of Roget’s Thesaurus flew off the shelves.

Sweet’s collage style illustrations are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, drawing fine threads of Roget’s story into focus with richness and clarity. I have studied the pages of this book for days, and still discover unique text samples and detailed subtleties in the pictures that amaze me. This is truly a book to savor over and over, noting fresh gems each time.

Indeed, in The Right Word we learn that thesaurus comes from the Latin and Greek roots meaning treasury. I cannot imagine a more apt description of this spectacular picture book biography. Be sure to note the extensive author and illustrator notes, timeline, bibliography and endpapers that will make this treasure an indispensable resource.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
  • Where Obtained:  I borrowed a The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus from my local library and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Download discussion guide here.

Read our review of Bryant’s and Sweet’s book A Splash of Red here.

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems Selected by Paul B. Janeczko

Celebrating National Poetry Month!
Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems Selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, (Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 6-9), is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

Janeczko, the 2011 CYBIL winner for Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto, has selected a collection of short poems about the seasons written by well-known children’s and adult poets. Included here are lesser known poems by Charlotte Zolotow and J. Patrick Lewis (children’s) and Emily Dickinson and Richard Wright (adult). Each wonderfully illustrates the point that poets are artists who paint with words and only needs a few carefully chosen words to convey powerful images.

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Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko with illustrations by Melissa Sweet, Candlewick Press, 2014.

The mood of the poems is reflective and evocative. Some are resplendent with metaphors or similes such as “In the Field Forever” by Robert Wallace (p. 21):

Sun’s a roaring dandelion, hour by hour.
Sometimes the moon’s a scythe, sometimes a silver flower.
But the stars! all night long the stars are clover.
Over, and over, and over!

Illustrator Melissa Sweet received a Caldecott honor for River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams. Her full page, mixed media illustrations (water color, gouache, and collage) are uplifting and enhance the poem without overshadowing it. My students admired Sweet’s illustrations for the interesting details she added that are not necessarily a part of the poem, but are reasonable inclusions. In the illustration for “Water Lily” a frog’s eyes peer out of the pond, following a nearby fly (p. 10).

The publisher recommends this for ages 6-9, but I read it to older students to demonstrate poetry techniques such as metaphors, word choice, etc. My 4th/5th grade class found the word choice so vivid that the readings evoked personal memories or made them feel like they were in the poem.

This breath-taking collection has deservedly received starred reviews Horn Book, Kirkus, Booklist, and School Library Journal and is highly recommended for all libraries (public, school, and home!).

A Mind Full of Pictures

“Make a Picture For Us, Horace!”

Horace? Have you ever heard of Horace Pippin?

Take your children on a journey back in time to learn about a man compelled to make pictures from a very young age. I let A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin ($17.99, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, ages 5-8) simply wash over me as I read about an artist whose works I now so want to discover and enjoy.

9780375867125From the team behind the Caldecott Honor-winning A River of Words (that would be Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet) comes this remarkable, uplifting story of an African American WWI veteran who couldn’t stop drawing even with a war wound that badly damaged his right arm. I found myself rooting for this determined and resourceful man and was thrilled when fame finally caught up with him.

There are just so many interesting elements in this absorbingly written and creatively imagined and illustrated picture book. These include newspaper headlines, quotes, glimpses of the artist at work, some of his art and back pages with notes galore from both author and illustrator, further reading suggestions, websites and a map of where in the U.S. you can see Pippin’s art. Suffice it to say you will not be disappointed when reading about Horace’s youth in first Pennsylvania then New York, his assorted trials and travails following WWI all the way up to his eventual recognition some four plus decades later as a folk artist when he was once again living in Pennsylvania. The way this award-winning team of Bryant and Sweet have managed to capture the essence of all that was Horace Pippin, from his love of the feel of charcoal to his impressive drive to retrain himself to draw inspired by an iron poker, deserves tremendous praise.

I cannot say enough wonderful things about A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin  and am delighted Pippin’s talent has been brought to the fore so everyone can have the opportunity to admire and enjoy his unique American art.

Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

If you are interested in reading more about other celebrated African Americans, please click here.

Fridays Featuring Flintridge – Boo!

Catherine Linka shares her picks for …

Books Featuring Monsters

This fall’s Halloween and monster-themed picture books are the funniest and most charming in years. Read one of these books aloud,and I think your kids will probably laugh as hard as I did.

In THE MONSTERS’ MONSTER ($16.99, Little, Brown Books For Young Readers, ages 3-6) by Patrick McDonnell, three horrible little monsters, Grouch, Grump and Gloom ‘n’ Doom create a huge Frankenstein-style monster to scare everyone. But Monster turns out to be the kindest, sweetest monster they never expected. A great book about friendship and gratitude.

Fans of MADELINE will laugh at FRANKENSTEIN: A Monstrous Parody ($14.99, Feiwel & Friends, ages 4 and up) by Rick Walton and Nathan Hale where “In a creepy old castle, all covered with spines, lived twelve ugly monsters in two crooked lines.”

In CREEPY CARROTS ($16.99, Simon & Schuster, ages 3 and up) by Aaron Reynolds, Jasper Rabbit steals carrots from Crackenhopper Field. Is it guilt or is it real when he starts hearing carrots creep after him? Kids will smile when they see that the carrots have the last laugh. NOTE:  Read the GRWR review of this book by clicking here.

SPIKE : THE MIXED-UP MONSTER ($16.99, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, ages 4 and up), by Susan Hood with illustrations by Melissa Sweet, is great for smaller children who will cheer to see little SPIKE save the day. Bright colors, and lively art tell the story of Spike who wants to scare everyone around the pond, but they all think he’s adorable until a gila monster appears, and Spike gets his chance to be a monster.

Please visit the Flintridge Bookstore today to pick up your copy of these great books, buy gifts, enjoy their extensive selection of other great reads  and relax over a great cup of coffee.  Also visit the website at www.flintridgebooks.com to keep up-to-date with story times, author events and other exciting special events.

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter, illustrated by Melissa Sweet ($16.99, Alfred A. Knopf Publishing, ages 5 and up) is reviewed today by Rita Zobayan.

As a woman and especially as the mother of two girls, I’m ashamed to admit that I’m not able to name very many women scientists, explorers or activists/politicians. So, whenever I come across a book that celebrates the contributions that women have made, I am eager to read it, both for my daughters’ education and my own. Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter is an engaging book that will capture the imagination of girls and boys (and adults).

The year is 1934, a time when in Western society pandas are thought to be mythical creatures and women are “considered too dainty for exploring.” Mrs. Harkness, a gown designer who “wasn’t particularly strong, athletic, or daring” doesn’t let societal convention stop her when she decides to find a panda in honor of her husband, who died in China trying to do just that. What unfolds next is the true, heroic and touching story of her quest to complete her husband’s dream when almost everyone in her life tries to convince that she would be foolish to try.

“Mrs. Harkness’s friends scoffed. ‘You’re no explorer!’ ‘You’re out of your head!’ ‘Don’t forget your husband died trying to find the panda!’ Mrs. Harkness didn’t listen. She knew her husband had died trying to find the panda. And now she had an expedition to plan.”

Through the 40 pages, we read about Mrs. Harkness and her Chinese colleagues, Yang Di Lin and Lao Tsang and their journey through China to find a bei-shung. We also learn how she overcame many obstacles–gender expectations, difficult terrain, and inhospitable weather–to find the first panda shown to Western society. She didn’t let any of the difficulties stop her. I’m guessing this story is not well-known and that’s a shame. Against all odds and expectations, Mrs. Harkness accomplished something that has had a long-lasting impact: “evoking universal sympathy for the plight of the species.”

In addition to the heartfelt story is the eye-catching artwork. Melissa Sweet uses illustrations, water color paintings, collages, traditional Chinese patterns and characters, postcards, maps and photographs, including one of Mrs. Harkness and the panda she named Su Lin, which means “a little bit of something very cute.” Just about every page has a clever use of media that helps capture the feel of the story. Indeed, Sweet mentions in her note that she took a trip to China where she collected items that she used to create the art for the book. The reader (and viewer) really gets a sense of the expedition.

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda is an entertaining, educational and worthy read, and one that I (and my daughters) highly recommend.

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