Read This: The Lost Words, a spell book to bring nature back to life

November 10, 2022

Last year for Christmas, I gave my grown daughter a book that fascinated me while paging through it in a bookstore in Maine. I took it home and read it cover to cover, enjoying its evocative poems about plants and animals and its magical illustrations, before I wrapped it up and put it under the tree. And then, after she opens it, I read it again with her. Who was the gift really for you may ask?

I’ve been meaning to share The Lost Words (2017) by Robert McFarlane, illustrated by Jackie Morris, with you ever since. Consider your pre-holiday opportunity to buy it for your own children or grandchildren, or even better, for yourself. And as it turns out, a follow up The Lost Words Recently said to be published The Lost Spell. I will be checking that one soon.

The Lost Words A book for language and nature lovers, and it has a clever hook, as the back cover explains:

“When the most recent version Oxford Junior Dictionary — widely used in schools around the world — was published, a sharp-eyed reader soon noticed that about forty common words related to nature had been omitted. The words are no longer used enough by children to earn their place in the dictionary. This list includes ‘lost words’ acorn, adder, Bluebell, Dandelion, Fern, the heron, kingfisher, Newt, that oneAnd Willow. Among the words that took their place were attachment, Blog, broadband, Bullet points, Cut and pasteAnd Voice-mail….

In response, Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris set out to create a ‘spell book’ that would return twenty of these lost words and the animals they named, acorn per wren. In the magic of sound and color, they wanted to reintegrate these sounds into the voices, stories and dreams of children and adults, and celebrate the wonder and importance of everyday nature.”

when the word Blog Displaced wren (which happens to be my daughter’s middle name and one of my favorite birds in the garden) in an authoritative source used by children — well, this blogger thinks she’d better advocate for lost words! See the illustration above, from the said chapter wren. what are you looking at wren Spelled out in a ghostly wren’s trill? That’s how the first page of every lost word begins — with a word and what it represents almost Gone, but not completely. You can still pick it up if you try.

The next page presents a “spell” – an acrostic poem, where the first letter of each line spells out the title vertically – about a lost animal or plant. Read the spell out loud, and you bring it to life! The animal or plant appears on the page, a single, fleshed-out specimen emerges from the moody color, as if life is being magically woven from a faded tapestry.

Each poem enchants the ear with wordplay, alliteration, onomatopoeia and rhyme. McFarlane evokes each living creature through words that, especially when read aloud, conjure up its essence. About the darting, hopping vane he wrote:

“Rapid rain is the needle, rapid rain is the pin — and Owen’s song.”

Sharp-song, Briar-song, Thorn-song, and Rain’s flight

Dart-flight, flick-flight, light-flight, yes —

Every ren poke, stitch, switch, glitch, yes —

Now you think you see Ren, now you know you don’t.”

After reading the spell, you turn the page — and there it is, in living color, in abundance, floating through a thorn bush. The spell worked its magic. Ren exists again!

here bramble.

“The brambles are on the march again,

Rolling and arching along hedges in parks on the edge of town.

All the roads are suddenly thick with swarms: cars are quickly knocked out, business ends…

Bramble now reached every house, looping the wires. People close doors, close shutters.

Little shoots steal through the keyhole, To go — to quiet halls,

Empty stairs – bowls of bright blackberries where the light falls.”

And there it is — the bramble, in all its prickly, baring glory, alive with hungry birds. Who can resist this? I don’t. I brought all the lost sounds to life in my home. Maybe you’ll want to do the same.

One last detail: this is an oversized hardback book, best to appreciate the illustrations. Buy enough wrapping paper.

Disclosure: I purchased a copy of this The Lost Words and reviewed it at my own discretion and without compensation. This post, like everything in Digging, is my personal opinion.

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All material © 2022 by Pam Penick for Excavation. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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