When, a while back, I made a brief mention of the disappearance of some words from the Oxford children’s dictionary I acknowledged the limitations of the lexicographer, who needs to balance all sorts of needs. I also mourned (briefly) the way that “country” words might fade into ignoble disuse. Today, Robert Macfarlane picks up the linguistic gauntlet, reporting and critiquing a paper (which I must read) on the capacity of children to assimilate knowedge about real species, but contrasts this with what appears to be a preference for Pokemon, which Macfarlane characterises as part of a “lack of natural literacy.” I could, maybe, try and contrast this with the walk I’ve just taken where 7yo granddaughter made up a song about conkers- but as I type, I see “conkers” is not recognised by my predictive text or spellchecker….
His writing is detailed, moving, insightful, and ranges from Barker’s Flower Fairies through Le Guin and Garner. I feel, as I read Rob’s thoughts in the paper, that I have been trotting behind him for a long while, as well as looking at other stuff along the way, and am looking forward to hearing him and Jackie Morris as part of their book tour for Lost Words. His name-checking of authors and critics we both admire – or that a growing community that I am amazed to find I inhabit with him, and Mat, and the great Alison Lurie and others all have read – is enlightening about how a scholarly community is constituted, made up of links and lines as complex as a set of ecological interrelationships.
Jackie Morris explains the evolution of the new book. Here is her blog post on the book, itself well worth a read, and she explains how the vision for their new book moved from protest letter through initial conceptions of a “children’s book” through to something rich and strange. I am looking forward to buying my own, and to having it signed in due course…
But this essay in the paper takes me further, and I am immensely grateful. It seems to me that we (whoever that comprises, but I hope it means me, and Mat, and The Landreader project, as well as bigger names) are no longer marginal children’s lit ecocritics, but part of a bigger movement of eco-literacy. I feel a call, if not to arms, then at least to get my critical compass out, to set out again (and again) on the paths that lead from the crossroads where The Chaperon Rouge meets B’zou, to where Gawain meets the Green Knight – and back again, through the riches of folk tale and legend, through traditional tales and modern inventive fictions, so we can help people appreciate, in Macfarlane’s words, how “nature, naming and dreaming are all tangled together.”