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

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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

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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

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“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.