The Lost Words: A Spell Book by Macfarlane & Morris

Already primed to love The Lost Words after recently reading Robert Macfarlane's Landmarks (blog post here), I was pleased to find that it lived up to my expectations. It's a book to get lost in, being bigger than your head, and it is easy to find your way out again, although I wanted to stay immersed in the enchantment and savor it. (I am tempted to use the British "savour" here, to make it longer.)

It's for children, maybe. Actually it's for everyone who loves language, poetry, wordplay, nature, and deep rich color (colour!). The catalyst for the book came when Macfarlane discovered that a new children's encyclopedia had discontinued some words to make way for others; in this case, the technological world overruled the natural world. Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, the artist, sought to conjure and reclaim twenty of the "lost words" and the way of looking at wildlife that they treasured. I love the subtitle: A Spell Book.

Three page openings are devoted to each of the twenty words: an introductory page with just the word, hidden in the art; an acrostic poem and single illustration on a gold background; and a colorful and narrative watercolor, splashed across the page, alone, yet alive. 

Many of the words are bird-related, but there are plants and other animals as well: acorn, adder, bluebell, bramble, conker, dandelion, fern, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, magpie, newt (has a conversation with a coot!), otter, raven, starling, weasel, willow, wren.

Some of the intro pages are more abstract and quite minimal. "Magpie" has a particularly nice introductory page. The word hunt begins.

Great Blue Herons are birds I see on my bay walk, and they feel like old friends. The acrostic poem is playful and full of rhythm and begins: "Here hunts heron. Here haunts heron. / Huge-hinged heron. Grey-winged weapon." Some are quite funny. They are also a great introduction to poetry.

The following page of a flying barn owl caused me to gasp. It is quite awesome full scale.

It's a lovely book for anyone, anytime. Right now, when we cannot venture very far, we could use some enchantment and sparkle.


feathers said…
This book is exactly as you've described it---I bought a copy for my 4-year old great grandson. so beautiful I hated to let it go. :-)
Alisa said…
feathers—I wish my 4-year-old self had had a copy! Interesting, too, what we want to keep and what and why we are willing to let go.
Liz A said…
The perfect gift for a soon-to-be eight year old ... will pair it with the book Frindle about a resourceful child who coins a new word ... thank you!
Helen Howes said…
One of the last concerts my late and lovely man and I went to was a staging of this at Snape Maltings, with musicians including Karine Polwart, Julie Fowlis, Kris Drever, Seckou Keita, and many others; readings, live painting on the stage! and all manner of good stuff. It was utterly enchanting
They have a webpage here
and the music is available on CD, I think
I'm so glad we went, not least because it was so perfect, and yet, at the end, we were told "this was the first time we did this on stage"
Alisa said…
Liz A—Now I have to look up Frindle. Thanks!

Helen Howes—Thank you so much for writing and for this link! That must have been stunning. At the link, the video of "The Lost Words Blessing" touches all the right weepy chords. I may have to order the CD…
dinahmow said…
It is lovely when someone you know, through reading something, connects with someone else. Like the ripples when you cast a pebble into water.
Alisa said…
dinahmow—oh, nicely said!