The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Written by Jen Bryant
For shy young Peter Mark Roget, books were the best companions — and it wasn’t long before Peter began writing his own book. But he didn’t write stories; he wrote lists. Peter took his love for words and turned it to organizing ideas and finding exactly the right word to express just what he thought. His lists grew and grew, eventually turning into one of the most important reference books of all time.
Readers of all ages will marvel at Roget’s life, depicted through lyrical text and brilliantly detailed illustrations. This elegant book celebrates the joy of learning and the power of words.
Primary Source Pairing:
An accidental grab of Roget’s Thesaurus from the shelf instead of the novel she planned on reading on her trip resulted in author Jen Bryant reading through the thesaurus which sparked the idea for this book. Illustrator Melissa Sweet brings the history to life with artful lists and collaged images. It’s hard to imagine a time when the thesaurus tool was more than a right-click away. It’s even harder to imagine a time when the thesaurus itself didn’t exist. Peter Roget’s idea to create lists of synonyms forever changed access to language for writers and readers alike. For this primary source pairing, invite students to study a page from Roget’s original thesaurus manuscript. Students can look at the printed image of the page for analysis or make the experience digital by using the interactive tool available at Rain.org. This online tool allows the user to hover over the handwritten text to see a typed translation.
Questions for Discussion:
- Describe what you see.
- What do you notice first?
- How much of the text can you read? What does it say?
- What do you see that looks strange or unfamiliar?
- How are the words arranged?
- What do you notice about the page the writing appears on?
- What do you see on the page besides writing?
- What other details can you see?
- What tools and materials were used to create it?
- What can you learn from examining this?
- If this list was made today, what would be different? What would be the same?
Jen Bryant’s website