The Right Word


Written by Jen Bryant, Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2014

Awards: Caldecott Honor, Sibert Medal

Peter snuggled deeper into Uncle’s lap as the carriage clattered through the valleys of Switzerland.

The plot in a nutshell: Peter Roget grows up fascinated with words

When he still a young boy, Peter Roget loses his father, an event which becomes, in later years, the first item in his life’s list. He enjoys keeping lists and grouping things together, inspired by Carl Linnaeus and his biological taxonomy classifications. Peter grows up to be a doctor and a private tutor, but he never loses his fascination with words. When he retires from medicine, he devotes the bulk of his time in working on his collections of words and synonyms, which was first published in 1852 and has been in print ever since.

As someone who is never very far from a thesaurus, either at home or at work, I fell in love with this book on my first read-through. Author Jen Bryant tells Roget’s story in a wonderful way, using word lists within the text to underscore his love of words. I found it fascinating that his original book wasn’t alphabetical (like its contemporary counterpart) but was organized by concept and grouped together by meaning. It was this fact that piqued her interest in Roget’s life and inspired her to discover more about him, which lead directly to the creation of this book.

So much to look at in this picture!

So much to look at in this picture!

After reading through the book, I went back and spent a really long time poring over Melissa Sweet’s illustrations, which  made it the book that I was most rooting for to win the Caldecott Medal. The artwork, in collage, watercolor and mixed media, incorporates different papers, typefaces and art styles to create images that tell the story and bring the whole idea of these words lists to life. There’s even an image of a page from Roget’s original book. For the many readers who will want to find out more about this truly interesting man and his life, Ms. Bryant includes a bibliography and suggested reading list at the end of the book. The enthusiasm of both author and illustrator shines through on every page. In addition to a Caldecott Honor, The Right Word won the Sibert Medal for most distinguished informational book.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that words are so much more than words.


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