When the “Oxford Junior Dictionary” was released in 2007, several words were left out. These “lost words” had fallen into disuse. More dismaying, they were the words of outdoor life, words like dandelion, acorn, kingfisher, and otter. The loss of these words reflects the loss of unmediated nature. Children living lives of planned experiences, groomed parks and self-improving lessons who haven’t the freedom to pick dandelions and hold them under their chin and say “butter, butter” to see if their chin turns yellow or of wild acorn fights or sitting on a fallen tree overhanging a bay and watching otters at play.
In The Lost Words, Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris have tackled the task of restoring those words to children in a beautifully illustrated book of poetry that will make adults jealous. Seriously adults, you will love this book as much as the children you share it with. House of Anansi Press provided a few small illustrations from the poem “Dandelion” that give you an idea of how beautiful this book is.
The poems are clever and sophisticated to please both adult and child. They are acrostic poems, each opening letter spelling the lost word. “Dandelion” opens with “Dazzle me, little sun-of-the-grass!” Again and again, the poems themselves dazzle me. Then there are the beautiful illustrations.
Each new word is announced by a little puzzle picture that parents can ask their child to look for the word, adding an interactive element that is easy to incorporate. If you follow the differently colored letters, they spell out the next “lost word.” With the poems, pictures, and the puzzle, there are three ways of being each “lost word” to life.
The Lost Words is one of those books that make you say “Oh, Wow!” over and over again. The illustrations are bold watercolors with rich colors and lively humor. The poems are beautifully composed. You would think by limiting himself to the acrostic form to spell out the lost word, Macfarlane could end up stuck saying something inane just to start with the right letter, but that never happens. The conceit does not constrain him; it liberates him. The poems are sophisticated enough to please adults but in simple, clear language that will engage children. They are active and witty poems.
I can’t think of one thing to make this book better. It’s brilliant, beautiful, and fun. It’s engaging and interactive. It’s thoughtful and wise and welcoming. Think of this line from “Heather: Heather is never only heather, as moor in never merely moor.” I love it.
The Lost Words will be released on October 2nd. I received an e-galley from the publisher through Edelweiss.