Review & Resources: The Lost Words

BooksforTopics Reading for Pleasure Recommendations

Book Title: The Lost Words

Author: Robert MacFarlane

Illustrator: Jackie Morris

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton/Penguin

Publication Date: October 2017

Most Suitable For: KS1 & KS2


With words like ‘broadband’ and ‘blog’ replacing ‘buttercup’ and ‘bluebell’ in children’s dictionaries, some critics have accused dictionary writers of erasing the natural word from children’s vocabularies. Others have argued that the changing lexicon is a reflection of the reality of living as a child in modern Britain, with outdoor play being ousted in favour of solitary electronics-based activities. Either way, once the ‘lost words’ have been removed from junior dictionaries and other word-based reference books, they are far less likely to have their common usage restored.

The Lost Words is a collaboration between Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, seeking to ‘summon what has vanished’ and celebrate a host of disappearing words relating to the natural world. This is a book about preservation - of nature, of language and of childhood – and the beautifully illustrated over-sized hardback volume is in itself a book to preserve and treasure.

Inside the book readers will find acrostic ‘poem-spells’ for each word, evocative of the unique sounds, sensations and moods associated with the experiences of encountering wildlife. Nothing can come close to the exquisite beauty of nature, says the poet. Take these lines from the poem starling, for example:

Let shade clasp coal clasp pitch
clasp storm clasp witch,
they’d still be pale beside the –
In-the-dead-of-night-black, cave-black,
head-cocked, fight-back gleam of starling eye.

There are no other words or experiences that can accurately replace first-hand encounters with the natural world. Children need us to preserve the lost words just as much as they need us to champion and protect their opportunities to experience the wonders of nature.

Each poem is coupled with detailed watercolour illustrations by Jackie Morris. This book is already a big hit in schools, with many copies being provided via crowd-funding campaigns across the UK.

Resources for Schools

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the publication of The Lost Words, the team at Penguin UK has issued a set of new teaching resources freely available to download. The resources comprise of 12 Challenge Cards for schools, featuring nature-themed curricular projects based on the book. Activities include planning and resourcing a nature space that celebrates the lost words, investigating the mathematics of dandelion patterns and creating questionnaires to analyse which words are becoming lost in the school community. Many of the tasks are open-ended and allow for easily adaptation to pupils of different ages or abilities.

To download the resources, click here.

You can also see some of the completed projects shared by other schools and teachers via this padlet.

Many thanks to Penguin UK and publicist Jen for sending me a review copy of the book and inviting me to host the resources.

Order The Lost Words online or from your local bookshop or library.

If you have used the Lost Words teacher resources, please let us know about your projects by contacting us here or tweet about it using the hashtag #TheLostWords.


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