The Right Word: Roget and his thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet

rogetThere are several good biographies by Bryant and Sweet such as A River of Words: The story of William Carlos Williams and A Splash of Red: The life and art of Horace Pippin and this book makes for a perfect trio. All three books are award winners.

The Right Word: Roget and his thesaurus tells the story of Peter Roget, a boy who loved to make lists of words. His was a quiet life as he was a shy boy but he was also very interested in words and this interest continued throughout his life as a doctor and family man.

I love the way that the text on some pages, particularly when he was young, is set out as a list.

1779 Born

Beginning

Baby

Infant

Tadpole

Child

Youth

Lad

Youngster

Whippersnapper

Student

Adolescent

Teen

Scholar

Grown up

Manhood

Middle age

Time of life

Maturity

To wind up

Draw to an end

Close

Died 1869

 

On other pages, words from the text are taken and synonyms included. For instance, one day after fussing from his mother, Peter shouted that he was FINE but then thought that it wasn’t quite the right word so listed others. Middling, not bad, glad, cheerful, well, very well, dandy, splendid and never better.

One of the wonderful elements of the illustrations is that as Peter gets older, matures, ages, becomes elderly, senior, advanced in years (my list not Roget’s) they lose their primary colours and white spaces on the page.

Compare a page from early in the book and the last page.

The last page does have shades of Colin Thompson where there is no frame and the whole page is divided into boxes with relevant items in each box.

At the back of the book is a timeline of the main events in Roget’s life with significant world events appearing on the line in red. This is a device that children could borrow when writing about a person of their own choice as it helps to set the person’s life in a wider context.

Other devices that could be borrowed from the book are:

  • changes in images to show growing older or a passing of time
  • layout of text to reflect the person’s interests
  • the use of a quote to introduce the book and on the final page
  • the final page divided into a series of boxes that contain significant things that represents his life.

One way to introduce the book might be to share this final image, discuss what is in it and then decide what sort of person this life belongs to. As you then read the book, the children could see if their predictions were right.

Thanks to Roget, we can always find the right word!

Other posts about biographies:

The 10 best picture book biographies

Comparing Biographies

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