the lost words.jpg

Title: the lost words: A Spell Book

Written by: Robert Macfarlane

Illustrated by: Jackie Morris

Hamish Hamilton (Penguin), 2017, fiction

For ages: 8 and up

Themes/topics: poetry, words, nature, conservation, spells

First page:

Once upon a time, words began to vanish from the language of children. They disappeared so quietly that at first almost no one noticed – fading away like water on stone. The words were those that children used to name the natural world around them: acorn, adder, bluebell, bramble, conker – gone! Fern, heather, kingfisher, otter, raven, willow, wren…all of them gone! The words were becoming lost: no longer vivid in children’s voices, no longer alive in their stories.

You hold in your hands a spellbook for conjuring back these lost words. To read it you will need to seek, find and speak. It deals in things that are missing and things that are hidden, in absences and in appearances. It is told in gold – the gold of the goldfinches that flit through its pages in charms – and it holds not poems but spells of many kinds that might just, by the old, strong magic of being spoken aloud, unfold dreams and songs, and summon lost words back into the mouth and the mind’s eye.

Summary (from the publisher):

All over the country, there are words disappearing from children’s lives. These are the words of the natural world – Dandelion, Otter, Bramble and Acorn, all gone. The rich landscape of wild imagination and wild play is rapidly fading from our children’s minds.

The Lost Words stands against the disappearance of wild childhood. It is a joyful celebration of nature words and the natural world they invoke. With acrostic spell-poems by award-winning writer Robert Macfarlane and hand-painted illustration by Jackie Morris, this enchanting book captures the irreplaceable magic of language and nature for all ages.

Why I am in awe of this book:

This gorgeously oversize collection of spell-poems is a glorious celebration of two things I love—words and nature. The acrostic poems alone would make a magnificent collection. The art alone would make a beautiful book. But together they are a work of art. Just meditate on the vivid wash of blues, purples, and blacks comprising the magpie’s tail feathers and you’ll fall in love with this book.

Or listen to the fantastic alliteration in the fern poem:

Fern’s first form is furled,

Each frond fast as a fiddle-head.

Reach, roll and unfold follows.

Fern flares.

Now fern is fully fanned.

Writers, I dare you to read this and not be inspired to try your hand at acrostic poems! I’m inspired to take long nature walks, notebook in hand, and see what images and words might flow when I stop to picnic and write.

And while the book clearly evokes the English countryside, many of its terms and images will be familiar to American readers as well.

For further reading/consideration:

For those interested in McFarlane’s inspiration for this volume, check out the article, How the loss of vivid, exacting language diminishes our world. It suggests, I think, that finding joy in the natural world – and in the words we use to describe that world – may just spur us to action to save that beautiful, diminishing world.

(For a collection of picture book reviews, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:


9 thoughts on “Perfect Picture Book Friday: the lost words

  1. Oh, my. There was a catch in my throat as I read your review. As a strong believer of the philosophy espoused in “Last Child in the Woods,” I must hold this book in my hands and walk outside. Thank you for featuring this book! It may never have been on my radar, otherwise!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gabi, what a great find! I really love the premise. It reminds me of “The Keeper of Words” in MG book THE BATTLE FOR CASTLE COCKATRICE by Gerald Durrell. The parrot had to say EVERY word in the dictionary before the year’s end or the word disappeared. When we read it as a family, we needed a dictionary next to us! SO glad someone did something similar for PBs. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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