Bryant, J., & Sweet, M. (2014). The Right Word: Roget and his thesaurus. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
Peter Roget’s life is chronicled from his early years as his family moved frequently, leaving him with few friends but many books to his adulthood and his persistent love of making lists of words and classifications as well as his varied other interests.
This complex story is told in many different layers from the text to speech bubbles to the unique illustrations. The text presents the facts of Roget’s life. We learn of his many moves, his love for lists, his independence, his intellect and love for learning, and his shy nature. Through his lists displayed throughout the book in the illustrations, we delve deeper into his mind learning what is important to him and happening in his life. The speech bubbles give us an outsider’s view into his life and how he was perceived by his contemporaries. We learn that they admire him and see him as having an interest in everything, which doesn’t appear to be far from the truth!
Collage illustrations showing Roget’s many lists perfectly capture how cluttered and chaotic Roget’s view of the world was and what prompted him to make lists to create order from the chaos. These illustrations capture so much on each page that readers must slow down so as not to miss any small details that add to the story like Roget’s continued list of events of his life (which is also shown at the end of the book in its entirety), fun excerpts from his thesaurus with words the author used on that page or which related to the concept being discussed, etc.
From Publishers Weekly: “Sweet envisions Roget’s work as a shadow box crammed with the wonders of the natural world, adorned with exuberant hand-lettered typography. Together with Bryant’s sympathetic account, Sweet’s gentle riot of images and words humanizes the man behind this ubiquitous reference work and demystifies the thesaurus itself.”
From Booklist: “In brilliant pages teeming with enthusiasm for language and learning, Bryant and Sweet joyfully celebrate curiosity, the love of knowledge, and the power of words.”
From School Library Journal: “Those who have relied upon a thesaurus . . . will gain a greater appreciation for the reference tool in this beautifully designed picture book biography of its creator, Peter Roget. . . . Busy and exuberant, Sweet’s charming watercolor illustrations, layered over collages of vintage images and fonts, capture Roget’s passion for classification while also providing readers new opportunities for discovery. . . . Expertly researched and well written, Bryant’s narrative not only details the creation of the thesaurus; it also conveys a sense of Roget the man. . . . An excellent illustrated biography.”
Use this book as an introduction to reference materials such as the thesaurus and dictionary. Have children use them to write an essay about their own lives and interests.
Pair with other biographies for children to learn about notable people throughout history such as Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet, For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story by Rebecca Langston-George, On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman by Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney, Frida by Jonah Winter and Ana Juan, and Rosa by Nikki Giovanni and Bryan Collier.