A Spell Book
by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris
Anansi Press, 2018. First published in the United Kingdom in 2017. 132 pages.
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 Dictionary — acorn, 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.
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.
Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/lost_words.html
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