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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris

Open the covers of this pint-sized book to conjure up a world of enchantment in the nature that surrounds us. Meet the red fox, the trickster, and the jackdaw, that joker of the haystack. Meet the owl, the pretty pink wildflower thrift that grows in the hardest and rockiest places, the swallow, the swift and the egret.

This is a book of poems that introduces us to nature’s many lives and its place in human history. This is a book that invites dreaming, while at the same time brimming with energy and the sense of being entirely alive.

At the beginning the reader is told to read aloud, and this is a direction that should absolutely be followed as far as possible. The words are rhyming and fun. Take for example the Red Fox, the

Shifter of shapes

and garbage-raider,

Bearer of fire

and space-invader,

Taker of risks

and riddle-maker,

Messenger, trickster,


The vocabulary is rich and expansive. Swifts are ‘shredding the sky in / their hooligan gangs’ while the old Oak stands ‘stag-headed, fire-struck, bare-crowned’. Each poem also encourages some deeper thought: the deep red blood that pulses through both the fox’s veins and ours, the heart of a tree that takes years to grows and seconds to cut down, the glimmer of the goldfinch that adds lustre to the landscape, and the miles migrating birds have travelled, screaming across the sky. The poems asks us to widen our minds and imaginations and to open our hearts to be ablee to see nature. The watercolour illustrations are splashes of colour, owning and developing the stories. I liked the way that each creature or plant was introduced by an illustration before the words that told its story, making it feel as though they had just been happened upon in a meadow or forest.

The Lost Spells is described as the ‘little sister’ book to The Lost Words, a collection that won the Kate Greenaway medal and, because of its celebration of British nature, was donated by community campaigns to primary schools and hospices across Britain. Both of its creators are British and well-established in their creative fields of writing, environmentalism, and illustrating.

A glossary in the back pages includes an illustrated key to the different animals, birds and plants wandering The Lost Spells’ pages. This includes their common names and Latin names. After finding the illustrations in the book, the reader is encouraged to ‘take this book to wood and river, coast and forest, park and garden; use it there to look, to name, to see’. Because it is a British book, a number of these creatures won’t be seen by anyone venturing out in New Zealand, some like rabbit and birch tree might. What New Zealand readers might take away from the book is the opportunity to look carefully at the natural world around them – to appreciate the plants and the creatures, to make the effort to learn their stories and their ‘spells’ of natural enchantment. The book certainly comes at a fitting time. As the lockdowns in 2020 encouraged people outdoors, this book also invites people to continue the forays they made into slowing down, appreciating the beauty around them, and to remember to incorporate it into their lives.

This is a beautiful hardback. Under the dustjacket with its gold lettering and speckles of gold stars is a navy canvas book with gold letters on the spine and the delicate lines of moth wings embossed into the cover. It would be a lovely gift for adults, children – or oneself.

Hamish Hamilton, RRP $40

Reviewer: Susannah Whaley


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