The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris

To accomodate the new words that are created to describe the changes in our world, dictionaries have ‘lost’ words in order to find the space needed. In 2007, The Oxford Junior Dictionary gained ‘blog’, ‘broadband’ and ‘chatroom’ but at the cost of ‘weasel’, ‘willow’ and ‘wren’ and so, as a result, 28 authors wrote to the publishers raising their concerns that separating children from the natural environment, which is proven to help well-being, will come at a cost.

This book is trying to redress the balance by publishing 20 poems, each about a ‘lost’ word.  The poems are all very different in style, some are almost like riddles, most use alliteration, and all have been crafted with huge care. They are also stunningly illustrated.

The Lost Words is, in my opinion, a glorious homage to words. The building blocks of language and communication.  The book has been reviewed many times since it was published, only three months ago in October last year, although calling it a book clearly doesn’t do it justice. It is way more than a book (a work of art comes a lot closer).


I am waxing lyrical here, as Macfarlane does, though I am no poet so could not possibly do it justice, but The Lost Words needs to be seen and heard to be believed. I’ll warn you, it is pricey, so if you don’t think you can stretch to buying a copy, please head to your local library to borrow a copy. Or go to your child’s school and ask them to get it.  They will thank you.

Five Reasons to Read


1. The Illustrations

Sumptuous is the closest adjective I can come up with to describe the pictures.  The colours are vibrant. The goldfinches fly off the pages. The bluebell wood does almost the opposite. It draws you in. Finding a favourite is impossible. As mentioned in the introduction, we need nature and The Lost Words takes us there.

2. The Language

Poetry is the perfect place to play with words. It is meant to be read out loud, so poets find words that look and sound wonderful.  They also break the usual sentence construction rules.  Read the poems to your child and give them time to ask the question ‘What does that mean?’ If you don’t know, even better! You can look it up together. They are learning how to learn, possibly the greatest gift they can receive!

3. The Poems

Each poem is an acrostic, the first letter of each line spelling out the word. Children love acrostics. Enjoy creating one with them, of their name, or favourite animal, and make it funny if you can. They’ll remember it better and enjoy the process.


4. Words, words and more words!

Intertextuality is the term used when one book refers to another.  This whole book refers to the words removed from the Oxford Children Dictionary in 2007 so, after reading The Lost Words, you and your child could go to the dictionary and talk about the words that are still there. The more words your child knows, understands and uses, the better they will do at school. Check out the National Literacy Trust if you don’t believe me. This book is the gateway to their future.


5. Let’s Talk gender

The majority of the poems don’t use any pronouns, adder is always referred to as adder, willow is always willow, so gender is not specified. But if you read the poems really carefully, which I hope you will, you will spot that heron is referred to as ‘himself’ and wren, in contrast, is a ‘she’.  This is an opportunity to talk about the author’s choice of gender. What do and your child you think?  Could it or should it have been the other way round, as in heron is a she and wren is a he?  We’d love to know your thoughts.



The sub-title ‘A spell book’ gives us a little clue of the magic in The Lost Words. It is special, and it is big and heavy too! Why don’t you place it across your lap, snuggle up close together, and turn the pages slowly, with love, and anticipation. Enjoy each page which brings a new gasp: an ‘Oh!’ or an ‘Ahhh!’, or even a moment of stunned silence at the sheer beauty of it all.

We would love to know what you and your child think of The Lost Words, so please do leave a comment. And I offer you one final thought. This is a book for all ages to enjoy. Your child’s Grandparents and Great Grandparents grew up in a world where the new technological words did not exist and nature was very much part of their lives. So, if you can bring together three or even four generations of people to look at this book, then you are sharing a precious moment of history.