In 2015, the Oxford Junior Dictionary published a new edition that saw many words from the natural world, like blackberry and acorn, omitted in favour of more technical terms, such as broadband. Dismayed at this, illustrator Jackie Morris was inspired to contact nature writer Robert Macfarlane to write The Lost Words, a beautiful book which has provoked an extraordinary reaction. Described as a book of ‘nature-summoning spells’ rather than poems, Robert Macfarlane gently restores the missing words – acorn, blackberry, bluebell, conker and kingfisher accompanied by exquisite illustrations by Jackie Morris. Winner of BAMB most beautiful book 2017, Hay Festival book of the year and the Sunday Times top 10 bestseller The Lost Words stands against the disappearance of wild childhood.
Illustrator Jackie Morris describes in her blog how the seed was sown by a letter she was asked to sign to OUP for the words to be returned. She says ‘It wasn’t the fault of the dictionary that these words were not included, but the culture in which we live which seems to give more importance to the urban than the wild. The dictionary was a symptom of this, and a timely reminder that we should take a good, long look at what we value’.
Jane Beaton, a school bus driver and travel consultant from Strathyre, Stirling, was moved to raise £25,000 to give The Lost Words to all 2,681 schools in Scotland after ‘a spur of the moment’ commitment on Twitter. She talked to The Guardian about how she was inspired to raise the money after asking Macfarlane on Twitter if there were any plans to give copies to schools. Beaton said on the campaign page ‘If you have seen, or heard about, or held a copy of the book then you will know what a magical thing it is. The illustrations and words cannot fail to engage and inspire everyone who reads it to connect with the natural world and its sights and sounds. It is the book I would have grabbed every day at reading time as a child. With your support I aim to make that possible for every child in Scotland.’
Inspired by the Scottish schools campaign many others have been moved to reach out and take actions to further the distribution of The Lost Words across the country. To enable deeper exploration of the book, The Lost Words now has free Explorer’s Notes for teachers, educators and parents, created by the John Muir Trust and available here.