Author: Jen Bryant
Illustrator: Melissa Sweet
Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September, 2014
Audience: 7 years and up
Summary: Peter Mark Roget was only four when his father died. Attend the illustration accompanying this text and you’ll learn that the Reverend Roget died in Switzerland in September 1783 and that Peter traveled with his family back to London. This information is not in the text but is organized as a horizontal list of pictures on the facing page. It’s a clue to how important the whole page, prose and picture, is going to be to this story. Peter moved with his mother and sister, Annette, so often that making friends was hard and he was very shy. He had his books, though, and he made lists, beginning his first book of words when he was eight. The lists helped him remember his lessons and they helped him to escape from his mother who pestered him with questions and her worries about him. An illustration shows Peter answering his mother, “Mama, don’t worry.” In his mind Peter immediately began a new list: worry, fret, badger, annoy, plague, etc., the words incorporated in the illustration. Peter was learning that words are powerful and when organized in lists they brought order to his world. He entered medical school in Edinburgh when he was only fourteen, graduated when he was nineteen, and spent several years as a tutor before he returned to Manchester to practice among the poor. Then he moved back to London and while being a doctor he was also an inventor, an educator, and a member of many scientific organizations. He married and had two children, Kate and John. He overcame his shyness sufficiently, using his word lists, to address most of the major scientific organizations of England. Through the years his lists of words grew and in 1852 with his children’s encouragement he published his Thesaurus, (Greek for Treasure House), organized so that anyone-doctor, lawyer, cobbler, or factory worker-could find the right word when they needed it. The book has been in print ever since, with 28 printings in Roget’s lifetime. A list of principle historical and personal events are included at the end of the book as well as a brief bibliography and a page from his original word book. The back end pages display his original thousand words with classification.
Literary elements at work in the story: This is called a picture book but that’s slightly deceptive. With water colors and mixed media over collages of graph paper, fonts, botanical prints, animals, maps, instruments of scientific measurements, and portions of Roget’s lists, the pictures and page layout demand more of the reader than the prose. The text is clear, concise, graceful, much of it arranged in lists. Words are a significant part of the ornamentation. When children begin to use synonyms and are aware of a simplified form of the Thesaurus will determine when they will gain the most from this book so that the emphasis should be on “and up” in the age recommendation. Shy, curious, brilliant, diligent Roget is an admirable person for the children to meet. There is certainly no age limit on enjoying and learning from The Right Word. It’s difficult to imagine a more perfect marriage of subject, text and illustration.
What does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? Not applicable.
Theological Conversation Partners: The wisdom of today emphasizes walking the walk rather than talking the talk. It’s deeds, not words, that are important. The Bible, especially Jesus, takes a different view. (Matt. 12:36) The unforgivable sin, such a puzzle to us, is a sin of speech against the Holy Spirit. When God intervenes as people build a tower to the sky, (Genesis 11:1-9) it is speech that is confounded, not building skills. Words can be dangerous. The Psalms are full of the sin of speech, the razor sharp tongue, 52:1; the tongue whetted like a sword, 64:3; deceitful words, 35:20. Words are powerful; they ARE deeds. Roget’s love affair with them, his desire to make clear expression accessible to everyone, his sense of their power and their danger are all ideas that we, as Christians, should claim. There is no shortage of words today: you know, I mean, like, four letter words and the name of God pepper our conversations. It is the RIGHT word that Roget is hoping to provide and for Christians the right word must be a good word. If we can help children delight in the discovery of words and what they can do, we will have made a real contribution to their growth in Christian Discipleship.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Have you used a thesaurus? Get one now and simply look at the many words it contains.
- Why did Roget make lists of words? How did this help him?
- Look at the scientific experiments in which Roget was involved. Is a good word to describe him “curious? We say curiosity killed the cat. What do we mean? Is curiosity a good characteristic for a disciple of Jesus?
- Choose one of the pages in The Right Word and count the number of different objects and words. Now you can name some of the things about which Roget was curious.
- It’s not enough to use the right word. Jesus says that words must be good, from the good treasure of our hearts. (Matthew 12:34 b, 35.) What are some good words that we can say?
- One good use of words is to say, “Thank you.” Who would you like to thank? How will you say it? What are some synonyms for gratitude?
- One good use of words is to compliment someone for a job well done. Who would you like to compliment? How will you say it?
- Words can be dangerous? Words can do harm. How?
This review was written by regular contributor Virginia Thomas.
The Right Word by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.