January 18 – Thesaurus Day

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate that most marvelous, stupendous, spectacular, cool, awe-inspiring, remarkableand—one from my early youth—groovy book, the thesaurus! Without its incredible cross-referenced lists of synonyms and antonyms, the world would be much more boring, dull, lackluster, monotonous place. Today, spice up your speech and writing with the perfect word to express all the nuances of life!

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus

Written by Jen Bryant | Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

 

While just a young child, Peter, along with his mother, his uncle, and his baby sister Annette, travel to their new home following the death of his father. It would not be his first move, and in the absence of long-time friends, Peter found companionship in books. When he was eight years old, he began writing his own book titled: Peter, Mark, Roget. His Book. But this was not a book of stories or even one story; it was a book of lists. The first list was divided in two. On one side were the Latin words he knew; on the other were their definitions.

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Image copyright Melissa Sweet, 2014, text copyright Jen Bryant, 2014. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Peter’s mother hovered and worried over her son, and he always told her he was “fine.” “Although, to be honest, Peter thought, fine wasn’t quite the right word.” As the years went by, Peter added lists to his book, prompting his mother to complain about his constant “scribbling.” But Peter looked at his lists differently. “Words, Peter learned, were powerful things. And when he put them in long, neat rows, he felt as if the world itself clicked into order.”

As a teenager Peter was shy, preferring to wander the London gardens alone, “making lists of all the plants and insects,” as in one of his favorite science books by Linnaeus. His “mother didn’t approve, and Peter told her not to worry—but “perhaps worry wasn’t quite the right word. What was the right word? Peter began a new list: Worry, fret, grieve, despair, intrude, badger, annoy, plague, provoke, harass. Enough to drive one mad. How wonderful it felt to find just the right word.”

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Image copyright Melissa Sweet, 2014, text copyright Jen Bryant, 2014. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

An idea crept into Peter’s mind for a book where “all the ideas in the world could be found in one place,” and people could “find the best word, the one that really fit.” When Peter was 14 he entered medical school in Edinburgh, Scotland. Upon graduation at 19, his uncle told him that patients would be wary of a doctor so young. To gain a bit of experience and maturity, Peter became a tutor to two teenage boys.

At last Peter set up his medical practice in Manchester, England, where he took care of the factory workers, who “were poor and often sick.” At night Peter worked on his book of lists, and in 1805 he declared it finished. “It had about one hundred pages, one thousand ideas, and listed more than fifteen thousand words!” Eventually, Peter moved back to London where he joined science societies and attended lectures. “Before long, he was asked to give lectures too,” and once-shy Peter astonished his audiences with his knowledge of math, magnetism, and other scientific subjects. He even invented a portable chess set.

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Image copyright Melissa Sweet, 2014, text copyright Jen Bryant, 2014. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

When Peter was 45 years old, he married Mary Hobson, and they had two children, Kate and John. As he grew older, he visited fewer patients, but he continued to take walks and work on his lists. While some other writers had published their own word lists to help people “to speak and to write more politely,” Kate and John “thought their father’s book was much better. Peter agreed.” For three years he rewrote his book. “He made it larger, more organized, and easier to use. 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.”

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Image copyright Melissa Sweet, 2014, text copyright Jen Bryant, 2014. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

“In 1852, Roget published his Thesaurus, a word that means ‘treasure house’ in Greek.” It was an instant best seller, and Peter became a popular author. But he never stopped making lists.

Following the text, a timeline of principal events in Peter’s life as well as world events allow readers to better understand the historical period in which Peter worked. Extensive Author’s and Illustrator’ Notes also expand on Roget’s biography, and resources for further reading and research are included.

Jen Bryant’s biography of a brilliant boy who grew up to give the world its most fascinating and comprehensive collection of word lists, is a spritely telling of Roget’s life and revelation into his personality, which was perfectly suited to his scientific and written accomplishments. Children will appreciate Roget’s reactions to his mother’s worries as well as the message in his well-rounded pursuit of science and writing. Through Bryant’s captivating and lyrical storytelling, children will be inspired by Roget’s journey from shy child to much-accomplished adult.

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Image copyright Melissa Sweet, 2014, courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Melissa Sweet beguiles readers with her mixed media, collage, and watercolor illustrations that are as jam-packed with ideas, images, portraits, and typography as Roget’s thesaurus is full of words. In the early pages describing Peter’s childhood, the pages contain simple framed pictures of Roget and his family. As he grows, however, his lists of words are transformed into vibrant artwork that jostles for position from corner to corner of the pages. In the midst of these, delicate watercolors portray Peter as he strolls through a garden, takes his young charges to Paris, treats his patients, lectures, marries, and finally publishes his thesaurus. A special mention must be made of the typography, which at times in the text runs down the center of the page in one- or two-word lines, mirroring Roget’s love of lists, and in the illustrations presents the myriad synonyms in a mixture of colorful block letters, fine print, and calligraphy.

For bibliophiles, wordsmiths, scientists, and history buffs, The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus is just the right book for home libraries.

Ages 6 – 18

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2014 | ISBN 978-0802853851

Discover more about Jen Bryant and her books as well as news, contests, and events, visit her website!

Learn more about Melissa Sweet and her books and have fun with the downloadable activities you’ll find on her website!

Watch this The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus book trailer!

Thesaurus Day Activity

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Word Words Word Search Puzzle

 

When you’re looking for just the right word, where do you go? To the thesaurus of course! Can you find the 25 synonyms for “Word” in this printable Word Words Word Search Puzzle? Here’s the Solution!

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You can find The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 4 – Fountain Pen Day

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About the Holiday

Today we spend some ink to extol the virtues of the fountain pen. Designed in 1636 (a mere 22 years after William Shakespear wrote his last play), the fountain pen sported two clever improvments over the quill pen. First, it contained a reservoir of ink that made frequent dipping in the inkwell unnecessary. Second, it’s metal nib didn’t require cutting the way a feather did to retain sharpness. While there are now many alternatives to fountain pens, there are those who prefer its smooth elegant lines for writing everything from notes to novels. Fountain pens are also collectable, and craftsmen around the world create beautiful, innovative works of art on these functional canvases.

 

Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk

Written by Jane Sutcliffe | Illustrated by John Shelley

 

“In 1606 London was a bustling, jostling, clanging, singing, stinking, head-chopping, pickpocketing wonder of a city.” With that phenomenal sentence Jane Sutcliffe begins this fascinating and ingenious look at the Globe Theatre and the experience of attending a play in William Shakespeare’s time.

In addition to all the qualities of London mentioned above, the town was also a “play-going city.” Every day of the week except Sunday, a play—or maybe even two or three—was performed, and as many as 18,000 people attended plays every week! They just couldn’t get too much of a good thing!*” And everyone loved the plays written by William Shakespeare!

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Image copyright John Shelley, 2016, text copyright Jane Sutcliffe, 2016. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

How did a day at the theater begin? Well, at 1:00 a banner was raised from the roof of the playhouse, and men, women, and children streamed through the streets toward the Globe. It cost a penny to get in, but if you paid more you got a chair, and if you paid a little more than that you were seated in the Lord’s Rooms. The Lord’s Rooms were actually for fashionable people who wanted to be seen but didn’t really care what play they were seeing.

All the actors were…well…actors. There were no actresses in those days. Men played women’s parts as well as men’s. And if you think phones and talking are problematic in today’s theaters, you would have been aghast at the audiences back then! They were not well behaved at all!

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Image copyright John Shelley, 2016, text copyright Jane Sutcliffe, 2016. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

There were plays to please all tastes—comedies, tragedies, histories, and romances—all full of complicated plots and plenty of twists and turns. While the stories may have been intricate, the sets were not. But the bare-bones sets were made up for in gorgeous costumes and even some special effects accomplished through trap doors and ceiling holes. Sounds full of amazement, right? Good thing too because these plays could go on for hours, and most people stood through the whole thing, rain or shine!

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Image copyright John Shelley, 2016, text copyright Jane Sutcliffe, 2016. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

William Shakespeare’s plays ended when the last line was spoken, his influence continued. Theatre-goers repeated the lines they’d heard long after they left the Globe. They used Will’s words so much that his new phrases became part of the common language, and we still use them today!

Jane Sutcliffe inserts a tongue-in-cheek apology before the main text, explaining how she wanted to tell the world about the Globe Theatre in her own words, but that William Shakespeare’s words kept getting in the way. Yes, using another writer’s words is a no-no—but if they’re Shakespeare’s words? Words we use every day? Hmmm… Sutcliffe’s lively history of the Globe Theatre and Old London’s theater culture is conversational, humorous, and highly informative.

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Image copyright John Shelley, 2016, text copyright Jane Sutcliffe, 2016. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

The left-hand page tells the story of the Globe with phrases and words coined by William Shakespeare sprinkled throughout and set in bold type. On the right-hand page readers learn the meaning of those words and phrases (some have changed a bit since Will’s time) and which play they come from. A final note from Sutcliffe at the end of the book reveals a bit more about the playwright. A timeline of Shakespeare’s life and a bibliography are also included.

John Shelley’s incredible illustrations of London and the Globe Theatre will take your breath away. The streets teem with vendors, knights, shoppers, kids, Ladies, and Lords. If you look closely at the intricate paintings you’ll also spy the seamier side of Old London—a pickpocket, a criminal in the stocks, a tavern brawl, a cat snatching a free meal, a woman about to empty a chamber pot on her unsuspecting downstairs neighbor’s head, and…could that be a dead rat?— and that’s only on the first page!!

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Image copyright John Shelley, 2016 text copyright Jane Sutcliffe, 2016. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Subsequent pages show the waterfront with its sailing vessels, a peek into Shakespeare’s study and a look at the printing press, an aerial view of London, the Globe Theatre with its thatched awning, actors donning wigs and costumes, the audiences enjoying the plays and the fun of a day out. Each illustration is alive with color and movement, texture and design, expressive faces, and all the sights, sounds, and aspects of Old London. Kids will love lingering over each page picking out the funny events going on in the lanes, in the theater seats, and on stage.

So hurry to get your own copy of Will’s Words and enjoy it to your heart’s content! You will definitely get your money’s worth!

*Italicized words and phrases were invented by William Shakespeare

Ages 6 – 10 and up (Anglophiles and Shakespeare lovers will enjoy this book)

Charlesbridge, 2016 | ISBN 978-1580896382

To learn more about Jane Sutfcliffe and her other picture books and books for early and middle grade readers visit her website!

View a portfolio of picture book illustration and other work by John Shelley on his website!

Fountain Pen Day Activity

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Write Like Shakespeare

 

William Shakespeare might have missed out on the new technology of fountain pens, but he sure did a great job with the quills of the day. Try your hand at making a quill pen—you may not be able to write with it, but it sure will look cool on your desk!

Supplies

  • Medium to large size feather with quill, available at craft stores
  • Clay, oven-bake or air-dry, in various colors if desired
  • Wire, beads, paint, and/or markers for decorating     
  • Scissors
  • Baking pan for oven-bake clay

Directions

  1. Roll clay 2 ½ inches to 4 inches long 
  2. Push the quill end of the feather into the clay
  3. Add bits of clay or roll sections of the clay between your fingers to give the clay shape
  4. To make the twisted shape pen, twist the length of clay around itself before adding the feather
  5. Shape the end or cut it with scissors to make the pointed writing nib
  6. If using air-dry clay: Add beads and/or wire and let clay dry around feather
  7. If using oven-bake clay: Add beads and other layers of clay before baking then carefully remove feather. Bake clay according to package directions
  8. Add wire and other decorations after clay has baked and cooled
  9. Reinsert feather into clay