Dictionaries are always evolving and changing, of course, as our language does the same. But adding words means removing others to make room. Understandable, right?
But when Oxford University Press, back in 2007, removed 40 common nature words from their Oxford Junior Dictionary—words like acorn, bramble, dandelion, kingfisher, pasture, weasel, willow, and wren—to make room for words like attachment, blog, broadband, celebrity, cut-and-paste, etc., people were dismayed. To say the least.
In 2015, Margaret Atwood (representing a group of authors) wrote OU asking them to bring back some of the nature words. Among other things, her letter said:
“This is not just a romantic desire to reflect the rosy memories of our own childhoods onto today’s youngsters. There is a shocking, proven connection between the decline in natural play and the decline in children’s wellbeing.”
Amen to that!
British author Robert Macfarlane thought of another way to deal with the disappearance of these nature words. He and illustrator Jackie Morris took 20 of the lost words and created a stunning book to keep them alive.
Brilliant, yes? This 128-page masterpiece is a cross between a picture book and a coffee table book. It’s big — 11” x 15”—quite substantial when open on your lap! I’m going to share just a few spreads with you in hopes of whetting your appetite for more.
Penguin UK has a chat with the illustrator, here.
One thing from this interview: “In a Cambridge University study, conservationists found British primary schoolchildren ‘substantially better’ at identifying Pokémon characters than species of common British wildlife.”
ACK! I don’t doubt the results would be the same here in the U.S. Frightening, isn’t it? Well, it is to me.
Back to the book:
There’s an excellent intro page to educate/orient the reader, then they take off. Each word gets three spreads. The first shows a setting where the item SHOULD be, but isn’t. Instead, there are tumbled letters you can decipher. Second spreads are poems. Third spreads show lush scenes with that “missing” item intact. (All photos taken by me with my phone, so obviously they’re more gorgeous in real life.) It might take kiddos awhile to understand the concept, but once they do, they’ll have a ball finding the words to spell out what’s missing. Here are the spreads for “acorn.”
If your library doesn’t have this book, please ask for it. Meanwhile, check out its amazing website to see the phenomenon this book has become.
Thanks for reading!