Sibert Award Winner


Bryant, Jen, and Melissa Sweet (illustrator). The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus. Grand Rapids, MI: Erdman’s Books for Young Readers, 2014. ISBN 9780802853851


Peter Roget (pronounced “Roh-zhay”) loved making lists. At the age of 8, he began his first, listing the Latin names of beasts next to their English counterparts. As he grew older, Peter became more and more enamored with lists and especially with lists of synonymous words. Even as he studied, traveled, became a doctor, got married, started a family, and dabbled in science, Peter continued growing his book of synonyms. Finally, after several other men had attempted to create thesauruses but with mixed results, Roget’s children convinced him to publish the thesaurus he’d been creating for years. His was the best, they assured. The people who read Roget’s thesaurus thought his was the best too! It became an instant hit. Even today, more than 150 years after Roget’s thesaurus was first published, it has never gone out of print. The Right Word includes a short timeline of Peter Roget’s life and other concurrent world events, a selected bibliography, suggested books for further reading, sources, a complete list of the 1,000 words found in Roget’s thesaurus, an author’s note, and an illustrator’s note.


The Right Word is one of those rare books with incredible dedication to detail and historical accuracy. Each page reveals careful study on the part of both author and illustrator. For example, readers learn that at age 8, Roget began writing his first “book”—a list of Latin words he’d learned from his English tutor. What makes this seemingly normal piece of information so incredible is that Melissa Sweet uses the illustrations to deepen the reader’s understanding of Roget’s list. To accompany the story about 8-year-old Roget, readers see an illustration of the actual words Roget printed in his book, a list of Latin beasts and their English counterparts—leo for lion, ursus for bear. In this and every other illustration, the lists of words that Melissa Sweet draws come straight from Roget’s notebooks and his 1852 thesaurus. Her design not only complements the text, but it often gives readers further understanding about the subject.

While the illustrations are notably researched, they might prove problematic to readers who find Sweet’s signature collages (colorful organized chaos) visually overstimulating. For example, Sweet draws columns of lists describing the four elements, the weather (in Latin and English), shapes, triangles, things that are green (in Latin and English), and things that fly, all on just one motley page spread of browns, whites, greens, reds, and blues ripped from pages of many-textured papers, some clipped onto the page, some pasted helter-skelter. With so much clutter, readers may be derailed from the main text of the story.

But while the illustrations sometimes outshine the text they’re meant to complement, it’s never due to poor writing. Jen Bryant has a knack for creating sentences that use just the right words to keep readers interested. The book begins, “Baby Annette slept in Mother’s arms, a small pink blossom against a wall of black.” The first sentence creates immediate interest with its unique metaphor—a baby isn’t a blossom but she could certainly look like one! Bryant never stops constructing these wholly original sentences. Roget’s idea for a thesaurus is carried “like a secret treasure,” and to describe the popularity of Roget’s thesaurus, Bryant writes, “People snatched it from the shelves like a new kind of candy,” a simile that will certainly strike a chord with its young, confectionery-loving audience.

The story’s reference aids are impressive too. Most notably, the timeline of principal events both in Roget’s life the world at large gives readers a better sense of the time period Roget inhabited. During Roget’s lifetime, he saw the end of the American Revolution ended and, only eighty years later, the beginning of the American Civil War. Young researchers will also learn that the term “scientist” wasn’t coined until Roget was almost 50!

One of the characters in The Right Word declares that Roget’s thesaurus is “a marvel, a wonder, a surprise!” But The Right Word itself, an incredibly crafted informational picture book, certainly deserves the same praise. This book is a must-buy for every library.


Robert F. Sibert Informational Picture Book Award Winner, 2015

Randolph Caldecott Honor Book, 2015

Orbis Pictus Honor Book, 2015

Golden Kite Award Winner, 2015

Kirkus Prize Finalist, 2014

From Booklist: “In brilliant pages teeming with enthusiasm for language and learning, Bryant and Sweet (A Splash of Red, 2013) joyfully celebrate curiosity, the love of knowledge, and the power of words.”

From Kirkus: “Bryant’s prose is bright and well-tuned for young readers. She goes gently, omitting Roget’s darkest traumas, such as witnessing his uncle’s suicide. Sweet tops herself—again!—visually reflecting Roget’s wide range as a thinker and product of the Enlightenment. . . . In a word: marvelous!”

From Publishers Weekly: “Together with Bryant’s sympathetic account, Sweet’s gentle riot of images and words humanizes the man behind this ubiquitous reference work and demystifies the thesaurus itself.”


  • After reading The Right Word, play a synonym game with middle-graders. Split children into groups and then say a word (like “big”), giving the groups one minute to write down as many synonyms as they can for the word (like “humongous,” “gigantic,” “ginormous,” “huge,” etc.). Then share the words each group has come up with, and repeat the exercise.
  • Read The Right Word with another 2015 Sibert Honor picture books, such as the following:
    • Roy, Katherine. Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands. ISBN 9781596438743
    • Tonatiuh, Duncan. Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation. ISBN 9781419710544
    • Powell, Patricia H., and Christian Robinson (illustrator). Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker. ISBN 9781452103143
  • As a creative writing prompt, ask children to write their own unique list of things like Peter Roget did in The Right Word, and pull out art supplies for children to decorate their lists. Hang them up when they’re finished.
  • Read The Right Word. Then read a bio of the illustrator, Melissa Sweet, and set out some of the other nonfiction books she’s illustrated, such as the following:
    • Sweet, Melissa. Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White. ISBN 9780544319592
    • Sweet, Melissa. Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade. ISBN 9780547199450
    • Markel, Michelle, and Melissa Sweet (illustrator). Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909. ISBN 9780061804427

*Note—This book review was created as an assignment for a course at Texas Woman’s University.

Review of a Book Illustrated by Kadir Nelson


Levine, Ellen, and Kadir Nelson (illustrator). Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad. New York: Scholastic, 2007. ISBN 9780439777339


In Henry’s Freedom Box, young Henry and his family work as slaves. Henry longs to be free, but his master sends Henry to work for his son instead. As a slave for the master’s son, Henry grows up working in a tobacco factory and meets a girl, Nancy, who is working under another master. Both masters allow Henry and Nancy to marry, and they have three children together. But when Nancy’s master loses his money, Nancy and the children are sold and taken away forever. Henry decides that he’ll do anything to leave slavery behind. With the help of a sympathetic white man, Henry is nailed in a box and mailed to Philadelphia where he becomes free at last.


The story of Henry is a story that children won’t soon forget. Its plot moves forward at a quick and steady pace, yet never glosses over the harsh realities of Henry’s life as a slave. Readers watch as Henry is taken from his family of origin and placed in a harsh environment where he can be beaten, as his wife and children are sold away, and as he mails himself to freedom nailed inside a box. However, while Henry’s Freedom Box makes the harsh realities of slavery clear to young readers, the text is written in a tactful and age-appropriate manner. The writing style is engaging and easy to understand, making it accessible for its intended audience. There’s no doubt that Ellen Levine makes good stories.

But the best part of the book is its illustrations. Illustrator Kadir Nelson’s crosshatched pencil lines covered with layers of watercolor and oil paint practically burst from the page, bringing the details of each scene into sharp focus. Facial expressions are drawn with especially astonishing clarity, driving home the emotions that Henry is feeling—his anger as he works in the tobacco factory, his delight as he talks with Nancy for the first time, his horror and heartbreak as he learns of the selling of Nancy and the children, and his determination to find his way to freedom. Pictures will invite readers to engage with Henry’s story, to triumph with Henry in his deliverance, and to develop a deeper understanding of a dark part of America’s history. This book would make an excellent addition to any picture book collection for older readers.


Caldecott Medal Nominee (2008)

Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award for Grades 3­–6 (2010)

California Young Readers Medal for Picture Books for Older Readers (2012)

Comstock Read Aloud Book Award Nominee (2008)

From Publisher’s Weekly: “Powerful illustrations will make readers feel as if they have gained insight into a resourceful man and his extraordinary story.”

From School Library Journal: “This book solidly conveys the generalities of Henry Brown’s story.”

From Kirkus: “Related in measured, sonorous prose that makes a perfect match for the art, this is a story of pride and ingenuity that will leave readers profoundly moved.”


Read with other picture books about Henry “Box” Brown. Compare and contrast the differences in each story.

  • Weatherford, Carole Boston, and Michele Wood (illustrator). Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom. ISBN 9780763691561
  • Walker, Sally M., and Sean Qualls (illustrator). Freedom Song: The Story of Henry “Box” Brown. ISBN 9780060583101

Read with other Caldecott nominees of 2008:

  • Seeger, Laura V. First the Egg. ISBN 9781596432727
  • Willems, Mo. Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity. ISBN 9781423102991

Read with other award-winning books illustrated by Kadir Nelson and discuss how the art is similar and different in each book:

  • Alexander, Kwame, and Kadir Nelson (illustrator). The Undefeated. ISBN 9781328780966
  • Nelson, Kadir. Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. ISBN 9780061730740
  • Nolen, Jerdine, and Kadir Nelson (illustrator). Thunder Rose. ISBN 9780152060060

Read with other picture books as an introduction to the Underground Railroad:

  • Tate, Don. William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad. ISBN 9781561459353
  • Cole, Henry. Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad. ISBN 9780545399975
  • Stroud, Bettye, and Erin S. Bennett (illustrator). The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom. ISBN 9780439851176

*Note—This book review was created as an assignment for a course at Texas Woman’s University.

Caldecott Review


Blackall, Sophie. Hello Lighthouse. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2018. ISBN 9780316362382


Hello Lighthouse is the story of one lighthouse and its last “keeper,” a man whose job is to make sure the lighthouse lamp is wound up tight, its oil is refilled, and the events of the day are written in the logbook. Time passes in the lighthouse and, with it, many events—the arrival of the keeper’s wife, the rescue of three wrecked sailors from a storm, the birth of a daughter, and—finally—the invention of a lighthouse machine that needs no keeper, causing husband, wife, and daughter to say goodbye to their beloved lighthouse and find a new home on the shore.


Hello Lighthouse is not your average picture book. Unlike such favorites as Corduroy or How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Sophie Blackall leaves her characters nameless and without a book-long problem to solve. However, while these omissions might make another picture book fall flat, in Sophie Blackall’s deft hands, Hello Lighthouse shines from its promontory station as a wonderful children’s book.

What makes Hello Lighthouse truly exceptional is its pictures. Beautiful Chinese ink and watercolor illustrations accompany and amplify textual descriptions—the colors of the sunrise reflect on the water as the text declares that “from dusk to dawn, the lighthouse beams” and the lighthouse becomes a ghostly silhouette when “the fog makes everything disappear.” But the illustrations go far beyond simple textual amplifications. They invite curious young readers to uncover hidden gems in the intricate details of each spread, like the words of the letter written to “dearest Alice” or the weather remarks written in the logbook of the lighthouse. And images are drawn from unique, cinematic perspectives, such as the eye-level illustration that invites readers to greet the lighthouse from across the shore with husband, wife, and child. Young readers are sure to come away from this book full of a little more imagination and a little more wonder.


2019 Caldecott Medal

Publisher’s Weekly Best Picture Books of 2018 Pick

New York Times Notable Children’s Books of 2018 Pick

From Publisher’s Weekly: “This graceful account celebrates a lost era and vocation—the sometimes lonely, sometimes dangerous job of keeping a lighthouse. . . . A jewel of a creation.”

From School Library Journal: “A lovely picture book, recommended for all libraries. A delightful bedtime read perfect for one on one sharing.”

From Booklist: “Blackall’s charmingly old-fashioned art style is beautifully matched to this nostalgia-rich story, which imbues an antiquated place with warmth and wonder.”


Read with other award-winning books illustrated by Sophie Blackall:

  • Mattick, Lindsay, and Sophie Blackall (illustrator). Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear. ISBN 0316324906
  • Blackall, Sophie. If You Come to Earth. ISBN 145213779X

Read with other books about lighthouses such as:

  • Armitage, Rhonda, and David Armitage (illustrator). The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch. ISBN 0590551752
  • Hopkinson, Deborah, and Kimberly B. Root (illustrator). Birdie’s Lighthouse. ISBN 0689835299

Use as an introduction to a weather unit with other weather books such as:

  • Rabe, Tish, and Aristides Ruiz (illustrator). Oh Say Can You Say What’s the Weather Today? ISBN 0375822763
  • Gibbons, Gail. Weather Words and What They Mean. ISBN 0823441903

Use as an introduction to an inventions unit. Point out that a new light is installed in the lighthouse. Brainstorm with the children about things they want to invent. Then, ask them to draw a picture of their inventions.

*Note—This book review was created as an assignment for a course at Texas Woman’s University.