The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
The incredible and award-winning team of Bryant and Sweet return with a picture book biography of Peter Roget. The book looks deeply into his childhood as a boy who grew up moving around a lot in Switzerland. He found that books stayed good friends through the many moves he made. Roget was also a boy who enjoyed making lists, lists about all sorts of things: Latin words, elements, weather and words for things in the garden. As a teenager, he spent time silent and alone outside, making lists of birds and insects. Then one day, he realized that it would be great to have a book that listed all the different words to choose from, and his idea of a thesaurus was born. But it would take many years of hard work to come to fruition.
Bryant’s text has just the right amount of information about Roget and his life. She wisely chooses to focus on his interest in lists as a child and how that grew into the thesaurus as Roget himself grew up. This natural progression of interest from youth to adult is something that children will enjoy seeing in both Roget and in their own lives. Bryant’s Author’s Note at the end of the book speaks to all of the research that goes into writing a biography for young children and the inspiration she herself found in Roget.
As always, the illustrations by Sweet are a highlight of the book. Here, as she explains in her Illustrator’s Note at the end of the book, she has incorporated the Latin words that Roget used in his notebooks. The other words that she weaves into her art are found in the first edition of his thesaurus. Her art incorporates different papers, watercolors, and objects. There is one page where it feels like it pops off the page, a book that contains words, creatures, plants and ideas. Simply amazing art.
A noteworthy addition to the already impressive shelves of Bryant and Sweet, this is one that belongs in every library and in the hands of all young wordsmiths. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
Cat Says Meow by Michael Arndt
A fresh new take on animal noises in a picture book, this is a clever and artistic reinvention. Blending animals with a typological representation of the animal and its noise, this book is pure font bliss. The book offers 25 animals that pop against the white background.
Simple in the extreme, this picture book explores the curves and zig zags of letters, turning them into tongues, feet, ears, whiskers and tails. The words are sometimes obvious in the drawings but others take a bit more squinting and thinking to make out. The art becomes a visual puzzle and makes the entire book a joy to explore and decrypt.
Get this into the hands of art teachers and writing teachers who will adore the creativity that it displays and the way it engages on many levels. Appropriate for ages 3-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Hold Fast by Blue Balliett
Early lives in a warm and loving family. Her father Dash is a lover of words and word games. Her mother Sum and little brother Jubie make up the total of four in their family. But when Dash gets involved in something shady, their loving family becomes three. Then people raid their home, breaking down the door and they are forced to head to a shelter without knowing where Dash is or how he will find them again in the big city of Chicago. Early finds she has to be the strong one as her mother begins to falter and her brother is so little. Shelter life is difficult and it takes Early some time to realize that she is in the middle of a mystery that she can help solve.
Balliett demonstrates her own love of words and wordplay throughout this novel. Told in beautiful prose, she writes poetically about the city she loves, the beauty of snow, and the power of family. She incorporates wordplay through her protagonist, who looks at words the way her father taught her to. Many times words sound like what they are, points out Balliett, and just reading this book will have readers seeing words in a new way.
Balliett also introduces young readers to the poetry of Langston Hughes. One of his books is at the heart of not only the mystery of the book but at the heart of the family. As Hughes muses on dreams and their importance, both Early and the reader are able to see his words and understand them deeply.
The aspect of the homeless shelter and the difficulties the family and Early face there is an important one. Balliett is obviously making a point with her book, sometimes too obviously. There are also some issues with plotting, with the book dragging at points and struggling to move forward. That aside, the writing is stellar and the characters strong.
Another fine offering from Balliett, get this one into the hands of her fans. It will also be great choice for reading aloud in classrooms with its wordplay and strong African-American characters and family. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.