The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
This is the second nonfiction Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee title that I have read, and honestly, I was a little disappointed in this one. The illustrations were beautiful, and, if you took the time to really look at them, they very much enhanced the text. There is not a doubt in my mind as to why this book was a Caldecott Medal Honor book. However, I found the book overall to be lacking in the substance that I had expected, and I wished that it had offered something more.
Peter Roget has been making lists his entire life. Starting with his list of important events, he makes sense of his world by organizing things into understandable lists. As he grows older, Peter realizes the importance of these lists not only in organizing his world, but also in helping him to find the precise word that he needs. In time, he realizes that he must share these lists with the world, and thus the legendary thesaurus, still in use to this day, is born.
What I Liked
This book is full of beautiful illustrations. If you take time to appreciate the details, you learn more about Roget’s lists and the ways in which he organizes the world. The little details, such as important dates, are shown in the vivid detail. I also liked that overall, the concept of the book was simple. The reader learns about what a thesaurus is, and how it is useful, before ever learning the specific term.
What I Didn’t Like
I didn’t care for the writing style of this book at all. On some pages, the text is in complete, logical sentences and paragraphs, while on others, it switches to a more lyrical format and reads like an awkward poem. There does not seem to be much rhyme or reason as to why the writing style switches, and for me, I found it confusing to switch back and forth between one and another. Another thing I thought was lacking was specific historical details. While the back matter of the book includes a list of important dates and a selected bibliography as part of its resources, I found that overall this factual information was missing from the text itself. It seemed that in an attempt to keep the book simple and understandable, the author left out numerous details that would have allowed this to become a stronger work.
I personally did not feel that this was a strong nominee for the Texas Bluebonnet Award. While the illustrations are fantastic, the pictures alone are not enough to carry the book. It lacks the substance of other nonfiction titles, and the poetic approach may be confusing to young readers. As a brief introduction to the the thesaurus and its invention, this book is an adequate resource; however, as an authoritative reference work, it falls short. It is worth reading for the background information, and for the illustrations, but if you are looking for depth of information, you will need to look elsewhere.