Kid Lit Review of “The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus” by Jen Bryant

This is the story of Peter Mark Roget, inventor of the thesaurus, and it is a beauty in every sense of the word.

From the time Peter was little, he spent most of his time with books. His family moved often and he was shy, but he managed to entertain himself by his self-instruction.

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When he was eight, he started his own book, and in it he began to keep lists of words.

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Eventually he became a medical doctor, but never stopped working on his book of word lists that he hoped one day to publish:

“Long ago Peter had discovered the power of words. Now he believed that everyone should have this power – everyone should be able to find the right word whenever they needed it.”

He published his book in 1852, calling it Thesaurus, which means “treasure house” in Greek.


The book sold out quickly, but Peter just went right back to his desk, creating new lists, “so that today, whenever you need it, you can still find THE RIGHT WORD.” Incredibly, the book has stayed in print continuously since 1852!

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At the back of the book, there is a timeline of major events during Peter Mark Roget’s life, as well as in his own life (and it was an amazingly eventful time!). There is an Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note, Selected Bibliography, and more.

Melissa Sweet is one of my – make that one of everyone’s – favorite illustrators. She researches deeply so that her collages reflect the content of the story even through the materials she selects. You may be familiar with the book she illustrated on the shirtwaist factory workers strike, Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel. For that story, her collages incorporated dress-pattern paper, fabric pieces, and stitching as borders. For this book, Sweet used only Roget’s notebooks and the 1852 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus as source material for the words she incorporates into her pictures. And as she explains in an Afterword, “the idea of classification and scientific illustration crept into my collages, along with imagery from Roget’s Bridgewater Treatise, old botanicals, vintage papers, book covers, type drawers, watercolor, and fixed media.” As you will see in this book, the results are spectacular.

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Evaluation: This remarkably creative work will delight word lovers as well as art aficionados, and no one will finish this book without learning something new.

Rating: 5/5

Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2014

Caldecott Honor (2015)
Sibert Medal (2015)
Keystone to Reading Book Award Nominee for Intermediate (2016)
Lupine Award for Picture Book (2014)
Kirkus Prize Nominee for Young Readers’ Literature (Finalist) (2014)

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8 Responses to Kid Lit Review of “The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus” by Jen Bryant

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    Oh my gosh, it never occurred to me that there was someone named Roget behind the thesaurus. This looks like a gem of a book!

  2. What a fun looking read – the illustrations are amazing!

  3. Vasilly says:

    I read this book last year and loved it as much as you did. Melissa Sweet is such a talented illustrator.


  4. sandynawrot says:

    How totally interesting! Never knew there was a real Roget, or his story about words. And the illustrations are just gorgeous.

  5. Trish says:

    Jill–oh Goddess of Children’s Books. How about a round-up post of picture books we should have on our shelves? Of course then you might make me go broke. Love love those illustrations!

  6. I also enjoyed it very much and now want o read a full bio of the man

  7. Rachel says:

    My eight year old son loves words. He asked for a thesaurus for Christmas and will just sit and read his dictionary. This sounds like a perfect book for him!

  8. stacybuckeye says:

    I love thse kids picture books about real people. Off to see if the library has this one.
    I’m still hearing about that Command and Control book from Jason! Did I tell you that he was so impressed that I chose it for him? 😉

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