- from The Right Word by Jen Bryant
Recently I had the privilege of previewing The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, a new picture book creation (released today!) by author Jen Bryant and illustrator Melissa Sweet. This book offers a glimpse into the life of accomplished scientist, mathematician, doctor, and scholar, Peter Mark Roget.
From an early age, Peter Roget was a writer, but instead of stories, Roget wrote lists – lists of Latin words he learned from his tutor, lists of scientific elements, lists of things he found in his garden. Roget organized his early lists in concepts or meaning instead of the alphabetical lists of more modern editions of his work. By creating lists, Roget brought some order into a life marked by loneliness and transitions.
Readers will find many opportunities to gather clues about Roget’s character and how he changed over time, not only from the text, but from the rich and clever illustrations that add another layer of meaning. This is a book about a list maker as reflected in many of the page layouts and definitely in the illustrations. Melissa Sweet incorporated much of Roget’s original work. The complexity of her illustrations invite the reader to linger on the pages and ponder a bit.
The Right Word abounds in opportunities for use as a mentor text in writing workshop. Before I even started to read the book, I wondered why Bryant chose Peter Roget as her subject. From the Author’s Note I learned that this very right book was born from an incident involving a wrong book. The author, while getting ready for a trip, mistakenly packed an early edition of Roget’s Thesaurus instead of the novel she was intending to read. Her discoveries as she poured over the book led to questions and wonderings – the basis for any good research and a key lesson for young writers.
Students will see the importance of being word collectors and the value of keeping lists in their writer’s notebooks – lists of ideas as well as words. I believe one of the best pieces of advice we can give to our student writers is to be conscious of word choice. Often just using a stronger verb or a more precise noun can raise the level of a piece of writing, and that’s what The Right Word is all about.
Sometimes young writers want to include every detail of a person’s life when writing a biography and aren’t sure how to transition between events. Jen’s skillful use of transition words - words like every year, years later, as he grew older, and for the next five years - guide the reader through Roget’s life so we can concentrate on the most noteworthy events. It is also interesting to point out that the book doesn’t begin with Roget’s birth, but rather with the most significant event in his early life, the death of his father.
Bryant not only maps out the principal events in Roget’s life in a time line at the end of the book, but she also includes things happening throughout the world. This important feature helps the reader put events in perspective and serves to deepen comprehension. This type of time line can easily serve as a mentor text for writers who want to try it out for themselves.
The Right Word has much to offer and will serve as a treasure for both reading and writing lessons. It is the kind of book where new discoveries can be made every time you read it. It is the kind of book you will want to share with your students and colleagues. It is the kind of book that will help us celebrate the power of language.
Note: This review was also submitted to The Nerdy Book Club and may appear on that site.