What makes a school bus driver raise £25,000 to send a book to 2,681 schools in Scotland? Answer – an enchanting book of nature poems and illustrations for children that everyone is talking about.
A group of young people from the city, staying on a summer farm camp, are out for an evening walk on the Welsh coastal footpath. A young girl in the party notices something special out to sea. “What’s that out there?” she asks the leader. “Is it a fire?” No, not a fire, but a glorious fiery sunset, a wonderful new discovery as the word ‘sunset’ takes on a whole new meaning for her. There is a world of natural wonders waiting for our young people to discover and they will need the words to go with them.
‘Once upon a time words began to vanish from the language of children. They disappeared so quietly that at first almost no one noticed, Words like acorn, adder, bluebell, bramble are all gone!’
From ‘The Lost Words’.
Words have disappeared from the recent Oxford Junior Dictionary. Out are acorn, adder, bramble, bluebell, conker, lark, raven, starling, willow, wren…. In their place have come a host of other modern IT words, a disturbing move away from the natural to an increasingly unreal man-made ‘virtual’ world of screens. The rich landscape of wild childhood imagination is rapidly fading from our children’s minds.
Does it matter that we’ve lost these words? The naming of things was one of the first tasks of mankind in Genesis 2 and one of the first things we learn as children. Words, mere sounds we utter, or ink marks on a page, are amazing, magical things. They conjure up in our minds pictures of things, people, situations, memories and emotions. Yes, words matter – for that young girl ‘sunset’ will forever remind her of an eye-opening evening walk on the Welsh coast as the sun went down in the western sky.
‘The Lost Words’
But people like Robert Macfarlane joined by the artist Jackie Morris are trying to do something about it. Their enchanting children’s book ‘The Lost Words‘ has captivated the many adults who have reviewed it with glowing praise. We found both the 20 spell-poems and the magical illustrations delightful too. Once you start to read out loud the magic sounds of the words, you and the ‘child’ still within you will have to read them all! This is an essential for teachers and parents of young children. The response to the book has been widespread. Jane Beaton, a school bus driver, has raised £25,000 to give copies of the book to 2,681 schools in Scotland. There has been a similar response in many other parts of the UK. Let’s hope that these missing words will return. In the words of the book’s preface:
‘Spoken aloud these words will unfold dreams and songs and summon lost words back into the mouth and the mind’s eye. ….and become vivid in children’s voices and alive in their stories
Lost For Words
I… gaze afar towards the southern hills.
The mountain air is fresh at the dusk of day;
The flying birds in flocks return.
In these things there lies a deep meaning;
I want to tell it, but have forgotten the words.”
From a poem by – Tao Yuan Ming
But of course sometimes words are inadequate. In the presence of something too wonderful for words we are speechless, filled with inexpressible wonder. I take this to be the meaning of this poem by the Chinese poet. In trying to express the ‘deep meaning’ in what he sees, his words have run dry. Living in a self-confident scientific age that thinks it can explain everything, this precious state of wordless-wonder is rare. But when, in the face of the wonders of God’s amazing creation, the words do run dry, that’s when praise and worship begin. I want more often to be there. Since the whole universe was made to praise its Creator, my heart too wants to cry out with the words of one popular Hillsong worship song – ‘So will I ’.
By the way, when did I last watch a sunset myself? They’re a daily free gift to all and autumn is the season when they often look their best. It’s time for some more cloud-watching I think!
I strongly recommend this delightful interview with Robert Macfarlane about his book
Thanks for joining me. This is a bit later than usual, as I’ve been recovering from recent corneal graft eye surgery. So far the signs are positive.