The Lost Words

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.”

Imagine this big and bright white. Find the word acorn. No acorns = no oak trees.

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!


Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum has been picture book crazy since her 3 kids were little, and especially so after her first was published in 2004 (Stink Soup). Recent titles: Stinkbird Has a Superpower, Jack Knight's Brave Flight, Where'd My Jo Go?, Frog Boots, How to Grow a Dinosaur, Frankenbunny, If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party, Elwood Bigfoot– Wanted: Birdie Friends!, Teeny Tiny Toady, I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!, and more. Coming in 2024: Parrotfish Has a Superpower and Bird Girl: Gene Stratton-Porter Shares Her Love of Nature with the World. She's also the author of many nonfiction books for young readers, as well as an early graphic reader series, Thunder & Cluck. Learn more at


  1. Thanks for bringing this fabulous book to our attention…stunning and smart!

  2. Hooray for Margaret Atwood, Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris! I am so glad that these three people cared enough to act. I definitely want this book for my grandchildren!

  3. What a cool book! Kudos to Margaret Atwood and Robert MacFarlane!!

  4. I’ve heard about this one. Thanks for the reminder to find & read it!

  5. This book is fantastic! I can’t wait to read it. And I’m aghast that those words were removed! I’d rather they add another page.Tthanks for sharing.

  6. Beautiful!

  7. I saw this book a few months ago and was amazed, and pleased, that something so different made it out there.

  8. Judith Wright Aplin

    So many to thank for this book. How very wonderful it is to preserve knowledge for coming generations – and – in such a beautiful and meaningful way!

  9. For those of us who love words, the loss of them is unforgivable.

  10. What a great concept and beautiful book. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Thanks for sharing, Jill. I want to see this book in person. It looks incredible!

  12. I’ve had this in my library queue for awhile now, Jill. Now I’m even more excited to read it! I read & enjoyed his book for adults, Underland (though it brought out my claustrophobia in some sections!)

  13. Jennifer Lane Wilson

    This book truly is stunning. It’s a nature treasure in our bookcase!

  14. What a treasure. I will find it. And soon.

  15. Amazing. I’m glad some people took action in their own wonderful way.

  16. As thorn is to bramble, as feather is to tree, this book is an ark of lost words.

  17. The removal of these nature words is analogous to the general removal of nature itself. Ugh! This book is wonderful, and we all need it!

  18. Oh Wow! You know, I see many of the old classics in the Friends of the Library sale because they have to make room for new books–I’m buying up those old books though because some of them are too good not to be on the shelf. Thank you Jill, for showcasing this beautiful book.

  19. I LOVE this idea. And I totally agree about the Pokemon comparison–frightening and tragic. Thanks, Jill–I’m happy to see they have it at my library. Can’t wait to take a look!

  20. This book is beautiful.

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