Today we read The Keeper of Wild Words by Brooke Smith. My students were immediately drawn into this story about a grandma (Mimi) and her granddaughter (Brook). Mimi is worried that important “wild” words will disappear if we don’t use them, know them, write them, and care about them. Mimi and Brook have a list of wild words and set off into the outdoors near Mimi’s house to find the words (natural things) on the list. From wrens to dandelions, minnows to drakes, Mimi and Brook identify and appreciate all of the words on the list. In the author’s note at the end, Brooke Smith tells about her inspiration–an article about removing over 100 natural words from a children’s dictionary to make room for words like vandalism and MP3 player.
After we read and talked, we started our own lists of wild words. We had talked about how some people were already being keepers of wild words, noticing one of our students with the name River is keeping a wild word from disappearing. Of course, we had to add River to our list. You might not be surprised to learn that these southern California first graders were quick to add ocean and sunset to their lists of wild words. I had to add egret to my list–my students know I am obsessed with this quirky shore birds with the bright yellow feet.
These young naturalists were inclined to add general words–trees, sky, and clouds, so I encouraged them to be more specific. One student started writing phrases to capture her ideas more fully (she definitely wanted constellations on her list after some sky gazing over the weekend with her family).
Words matter and paying attention to wild words is another way of focusing attention on our natural world. Appreciate for and knowledge of nature and our environment is essential. I’m hopeful that the next generation will reclaim wild knowledge as they work to regenerate the resources that are on the verge of disappearing, just like the wild words Brooke Smith brought to our attention.