The Keeper of the Wild Words by Brooke Smith, illustrated by Madeline Kloepper
The Keeper of the Wild Words
by Brooke Smith,
illustrated by Madeline Kloepper
Review Copy from Chronicle Books
Alarmed, astounded and saddened by an article noting the removal of over 100 natural words from the Oxford Junior Dictionary (to be replaced with words like: Analog, Chatroom, MP3 Player and Voicemail) Smith was inspired to rescue those words. With The Keeper of the Wild Words, Smith has created a serene, inviting, intriguing setting that invites readers to explore the natural world through words. When Brook heads to her Mimi's house in the country hoping to find something to bring for show-and-tell on the first day of school, her mission is quickly forgotten when her grandmother tells her that "some of the wild words that I've known and loved my whole life" are disappearing. Confused, Brook asks how could a word disappear? Mimi's answer, "Words disappear is we don't share them when we talk. If we don't write them in our stories. If we don't read then in our books. If we don't use words, they can be forgotten." This powerful warning gave me pause and had me scrolling though my memory of all the kid's books I've read over years past years, wondering what words our children may never read.
Mimi tells Brook she will be the Keeper of the Wild Words and hands her a list of nineteen wild words they will keep from disappearing and they head out the door. As they walk through the wilderness, they stop each time they find a word on their list, with Smith taking the opportunity to describe, define and lift up each word with poetic grace while also drawing all senses into the experience. Violets "spread underfoot," and their "little purple faces smile, inviting the day to begin." Buttercups in a field are a "wild carpet of light and beauty," and a dandelion is, "fairy dust sitting on a stem." Ferns with their, "green-feathered leaves curled up and then spread out like a fan," and then a page turn reveals a doe, "curled up like a fern." Smith ensures that these words are more than just the names of things, they are connectors, linking us to the natural world. As the story comes to a close, Mimi and Brook come to the last word on the list - a brook! This, "joyful thread of water, cutting through the trees," is what inspired Brook's mother when giving her a name.
Smith's authors note is well worth reading, and should almost be at the start of the book, rather than the close. It definitely had me reading with a greater sense of urgency. Best of all, the final pages of the book form an envelope with lines that call to mind the list Mimi made, embellished with Kloepper's gentle illustrations of flora and fauna. Written on the envelope are these words,
You can be a Keeper, too. Your wild words will stay save inside this envelope.