The Lost Words: A Spell Book

Front Cover
House of Anansi Press, 2018 - Art - 128 pages

In 2007, when a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary -- widely used in schools around the world -- was published, a sharp-eyed reader soon noticed that around forty common words concerning nature had been dropped. Apparently they were no longer being used enough by children to merit their place in the dictionary. The list of these "lost words" included acorn, adder, bluebell, dandelion, fern, heron, kingfisher, newt, otter, and willow. Among the words taking their place were attachment, blog, broadband, bullet-point, cut-and-paste, and voice-mail. The news of these substitutions -- the outdoor and natural being displaced by the indoor and virtual -- became seen by many as a powerful sign of the growing gulf between childhood and the natural world.

Ten years later, Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris set out to make a "spell book" that will conjure back twenty of these lost words, and the beings they name, from acorn to wren. By the magic of word and paint, they sought to summon these words again into the voices, stories, and dreams of children and adults alike, and to celebrate the wonder and importance of everyday nature. The Lost Words is that book -- a work that has already cast its extraordinary spell on hundreds of thousands of people and begun a grass-roots movement to re-wild childhood across Britain, Europe, and North America.

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The Lost Words is a beautiful, poetic, and approachable artistic book for anyone who enjoys reading. Using beautiful illustrations, typography, and acrostic poetry, the book acts as a time capsule to capture words that were recently removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. The authors' focus on words related to flora and fauna to act "...as a powerful sign of the growing gulf between childhood and the natural world." (Macfarlane & Morris, 2017)
One word at a time, I was immersed in a brief story told through acrostic poetry that highlighted something that is special about each animal or plant. I felt humbled upon arriving at the realisation that words can be as susceptible to becoming endangered as the flora and fauna they represent. Some of the animals and plants mentioned may only be familiar to people who have lived in the UK, however, this does not diminish the narrative or impact of the book.
The muted autumnal colours and tones used throughout remind us that all of the words are connected through the natural world. At the same time, the colours and tones provide a somber undertone that acts as a reminder of the potential that these words are at risk of being lost forever. The authors' selective use of gold highlighting letters and words helped them stand out as the focus of this book.
The importance of this book in my life is simple; keeping these words, as well as other words related to nature, active in my lexicon is an important factor in preserving the natural world and the the environments we live in for generations to come. I will keep these words in my lexicon and encourage others to do the same so that these words, and the animals and plants they represent, will not be lost to time.
The size of the book is wider and longer than most children's books. It would as good on a coffee table as it would when showing it to a group of children. The size appears to be an intentional design choice to encourage people to experience the book in groups or in shared spaces. The book's length does make it somewhat challenging to curl up with or for a child to read on their own without resting it on a flat surface.
The Lost Words would make a great addition to any library. I would recommend it as a must-own for people who are passionate about etymology, typography, the English language, the movement to re-wild the world, or children's books.
 

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About the author (2018)

ROBERT MACFARLANE is a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and the author of a number of bestselling and prize-winning books, including The Wild Places, The Old Ways, Holloway, Landmarks, and Underland, which won the Wainwright Prize. His work has been translated into many languages and widely adapted for film, television, and radio. The American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded him the E. M. Forster Award for Literature in 2017. He is a word collector and mountain climber -- and he has three children who have taught him more about the world than any book.

JACKIE MORRIS grew up in the Vale of Evesham and studied at Hereford College of Arts and at Bath Academy. She won the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal, the highest honour in children's book illustration, for

The Lost Words. She has illustrated for the New Statesman, the Independent, and the Guardian, collaborated with Ted Hughes, and has written and illustrated over forty books, including beloved classics such as The Snow Leopard, The Ice Bear, Song of the Golden Hare, Tell Me a Dragon, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and The Wild Swans. Jackie Morris lives in a cottage on the cliffs of Pembrokeshire.

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