Thursday, January 10, 2008

Roget’s Children’s Thesaurus: Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Roget’s Children’s Thesaurus
Publication: Scott Foresman, a division o Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, 2000
Genre: Reference, publisher states for grades 3-5
ISBN: 0673651371
Format: hardcover book
Full retail price: $16.00

Summary: Disappointed. It’s a Dumbed Down Reference Book. Publisher Says for Grades 3-5, I Disagree.

Rating: 2 stars

How I Came To Buy This Book: Based on the recommendation in the homeschool curriculum, First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind Level 3 (for Grades 3-4) by Jessie Wise. I purchased this book to use with the program, sight unseen, from The regular Roget’s Thesaurus is a classic, so I trusted this name. Until now, I had not been let down by the recommendations of Jessie Wise (co-author of The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home).

I wanted a reference tool to help my children find more creative words in their writing composition.

Note: I see inside the book, the publisher states this book is also published under the title “The Beginning Writer’s Thesaurus”. After a bit of research I see that book was published for grade 3 only to use in the classroom to not be just a thesaurus but to use as a tool for teaching vocabulary in general. Now that makes better sense to me! (Read on for more information).

Wow I was very surprised when I opened this book. I was very under-whelmed. I wanted a thesaurus that was suitable for grades 3-5. This is what I’d call ‘dumbed down’ if we are going by the publisher’s recommendation that this is for grades 3-5.

I felt that a thesaurus was laid out like a dictionary in alphabetical order with all the word entries in the main body of the book. I thought that after each word, it then lists synonyms and antonyms.

This book is not the typical format that I had expected to see. First there are main “entry words” that have one full page dedicated to them. Not every word in the book is an “entry word”. An example is one entry word is ‘idea’ and a synonym is ‘thought’ but the words ‘thought’ and all the other synonyms (concept, notion) are not something you could have looked up as a main entry, nor are they cross-referenced!

The font size, white space and illustrations seem right for grades 1 and 2. However the readability of the words is more appropriate for grade 3 so technically it might be too hard for students in grades 1 and 2 (as another Amazon customer stated it was good for). The book just seemed too simple and skimpy for children in grades 4 and 5 to use as a reference tool for use to improve their writing.

There is quite a lot of white space on each page. Each page has at least one large full color graphic for ‘interest’, it states. I found it visually cluttered and distracting. The illustrations range from photographs to hand-drawn illustrations. Poems, song lyrics or quotes or lists sometimes are also on the pages. Those extra features are overkill and visual clutter for students using the book to try to just find a synonym or an antonym to use in their writing.

Some entries have word pools which are related words that are not technically synonyms, i.e. bright has sparkle and twinkle in its word pool. Some entries have word lists they call “words from words” (which translates to be lists of words created from that root word).

After the one ‘entry word’ is shown on the left corner there usually 4-6 synonyms in large bold font with a definition and an illustrating sentence for each. Oddly, the antonym is harder to see as it is in small, unbolded font. They provide only one antonym for each entry word.

In order to find the full list of words in alphabetical order you’d have to use the index at page 225 to locate the word you are thinking of to find its synonyms.

Here is how they would have to use the book: If a child needs to look up a word they would first scroll through the 200+ pages to see if the word can be found, by reading each entry word on the page and continuing to flip and flip until they got to the right spot where it should be. (There is no list at the beginning to see if your word is an entry word or not.) If it is not found, it means it is not an ‘entry word’. I’d hope the student would not give up at that point---they should then go to page 225 and read the index to see if the word is in this book and used as a synonym or antonym for an entry word.

Given that the words here are quite simplistic, for children especially in 4th or 5th grade they might have to use a second, more comprehensive thesaurus to find the information they need.

The book also features a couple of articles about creativity and writing and shows examples of the format of writing a personal letter,

Before I confirmed it by reading the publisher’s information for the book under the original title, I suspected (and was right) that this book would be more useful if a teacher were using the entries as part of their lesson plans in and of themselves, such as a lesson on what the word ‘interested’ means and how it is used, in vocabulary lessons.

I’ll keep this to try to use with my second grader. I now plan to look for a better thesaurus to use with my fifth grader. This time I’ll look at the books in person first.

I’m surprised to be disappointed in this product that bears the name “Roget’s Thesaurus” in the title; I expected more of a reference tool.

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