Review of The Lost Words, by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris

The Lost Words

A Spell Book

by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris

Anansi Press, 2018. First published in the United Kingdom in 2017. 132 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 6, 2019, from a library book

This gorgeous book focuses on twenty words from nature that had been removed from the latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionaryacorn, adder, bluebell, bramble, conker, dandelion, fern, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, magpie, newt, otter, raven, starling, weasel, willow, and wren.

The book is large, oversized, and heavy, making it awe-inspiring. The only trouble I see with that is I can’t imagine children carrying it around to read it over and over. This is a coffee table book that’s physically heavy to pick up. Perhaps they could make a small version for everyday use? Though this one is stunning.

Each word first has a simple spread where the lost word is hidden among other letters, but highlighted in a different color. Then we have an acrostic poem featuring the word with a painting of the object on the facing page. Next there is a full-color glorious painting on the following spread.

I had gotten through almost the entire book before I realized that these poems absolutely must be read aloud. I went back and made up for my mistake of trying to read them silently. The poems are magnificent. I will highlight a few stanzas with wordplay I especially like.

From the Willow poem:

Willow, when the wind blows so your branches billow,
O will you whisper while we listen so we learn what
words your long leaves loosen?

From the Otter poem:

This swift swimmer’s a silver-miner – with
trout its ore it bores each black pool deep
and deeper, delves up-current steep and
steeper, turns the water inside-out, then

From the Fern poem:

Reach, roll and unfold follows.
Fern flares.

Now fern is fully fanned.

From the heron poem, coming just after the marvelous line that the heron “magically . . . unstatues:

Out of the water creaks long-legs heron,
old-priest heron, from hereon in all sticks
and planks and rubber-bands, all clanks and
clicks and rusty squeaks.

Now heron hauls himself into flight – early
aviator, heavy freighter – and with steady
wingbeats boosts his way through evening
light to roost.

From the Ivy poem:

You call me ground-cover; I say sky-wire.

May this magnificent book open our eyes again to nature.

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