Jackie Morris

week of enchantment

You hold in your hands a spellbook … it holds not poems but spells of many kinds that might just, by the old, strong magic of being spoken aloud, unfold dreams and songs, and summon lost words back into the mouth and the mind’s eye.

From The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris

The Lost Words is a magical book. The spells it holds are spells for conjuring back words that are disappearing from the language of children. But its magic works deeper and further than that.

Time and again, the people who encounter it are bewitched – by Jackie Morris’ sumptuous, gold-scattered illustrations; by Robert Macfarlane’s wondrous weaving of words, and by the treasures of the more-than-human world to which they both point.

Acorn Poem

This week it seemed that Vernon Oak’s efforts to give a copy of this book to every primary school in Sheffield were also enchanted.

Vernon’s crowdfunder was 50 per cent funded after just 48 hours. Within a week it had passed the 70 per cent mark!

As Vernon’s agent, I contacted him for a reaction to this magical progress.

JD: So, Vernon, how do you feel about the way the crowdfunding is going so far?
Vernon Oak: I am thrilled! It started like this:

oak seedling 16-05-2018, 07 36 32

and now it’s like this:

mature oak 14-05-2018, 07 37 43

VO (continued): It’s been a wonderful surprise to see how the fund has been growing: the comments left by so many supporters show that the campaign has really captured people’s hearts and imaginations. Jackie Morris says that the book is ‘a hymn of praise to the wild around us’. I think that’s important: it’s the ‘wild around us’ – encountered by people every day in their cities, towns and streets – which is precious to them.

That’s why it makes sense for a threatened street tree to have launched the campaign.

It’s been quite an exciting week too, not just because of the success of the crowdfunder, but also because we also heard that The Lost Words was joint winner (with Angie Hobbs’ The Hate U Give) of the Children’s Book of 2018 at the British Book Awards.

Some of my friends  had a celebration tea party to congratulate Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris as very worthy winners, and I provided the backdrop and the shade.

LW party 15-05-2018, 16 23 19

LW congrats 15-05-2018, 17 23 36

Jack the dog was wearing a heart with the message ‘I love Vernon’s bark’. Dogs are among my most active supporters.

JD: What a huge amount of support you have, Vernon. I think  it’s be good to remind readers of why you need it, too. Back in 2017, I wrote about how Sheffield Council had decided you should be felled as part of their highways maintenance programme. A lot’s happened since then. Six of your  beautiful lime tree friends in the next road have been cut down, for a start. Can you tell us where things stand with you at the moment? Are you safe from the chop?

VO: Afraid not. My supporters are waiting to hear whether Sheffield City Council is willing to accept an offer of help from the charity Trees for Cities which could save me. The Woodland Trust is also fighting my corner.

But at the moment, Vernon’s still on the list for felling.

I’m afraid Chatsworth Road looks very empty without the beautiful Duchess Lime and the other five limes. Our annual summer visitors, the swifts and house-martins which feed on the insects there, have just arrived. Now there are only six lime trees left on the street, I hope it doesn’t mean half the number of insects for them. And there’s the night shift to think of too – the bats. I hope there are enough insects to feed them all.

There was some extra hopeful news this week, though. I had a wonderful surprise when Robert Macfarlane left a comment on my crowdfunding page. It seems that he’s writing me a special spell of protection!

macfarlane spell

JD: Let’s hope that even more of The Lost Words magic comes your way, Vernon. Finally, there’s just one more thing I wanted to ask you. It seems that in the past, I’ve made a terrible mistake by referring to you with the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘him’. I’m truly sorry. Can you explain why this is such a blunder?

VO: Thank you for asking that, Jo, it’s an easy mistake to make, particularly since my name sounds masculine. My name is a mistake. I was named after the road even though I was growing here first. Really, the road should have been named after me and the road should have been called Oak Tree Close or Quercus Robur Road. However, it didn’t happen and I ended up being called Vernon after the road. I’ve learned to live with it.

All oak trees are both male and female at the same time; parts of us are male and parts of us are female. We’re monoecious: it means we can produce acorns even if there aren’t any other oaks nearby. I suppose it doesn’t really matter if you call me “he” or “she”, you can think of me as either, or both.

JD: Thank you very much for that, Vernon – and for teaching me a new word!

I leave you with this beautiful picture by Jackie Morris. Written in her unique otter alphabet, it reads LOVE, and she very generously donated the money from its sale to Vernon’s campaign.

You can donate to Vernon’s crowdfunder here. Despite the wonderful early response, £1,000 is still needed to hit the target.

What’s more, Vernon and team are starting to dream about what might be possible if the target is exceeded: more books and more magic for more places in Sheffield, perhaps? An even bigger counter-offensive of joy and creativity in the face of the ongoing threat to the city’s street trees.

Many thanks to everyone who has backed Vernon’s crowdfunder so far, and thanks to the organisations supporting our efforts: Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, and  their Teach Wild Network; The Woodland Trust; and Rhyme and Reason independent bookshop at Hunter’s Bar, Sheffield.

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The oak tree and the spell book

In my last post, I hinted at a brand-new creative project arising out of the tree felling scandal in Sheffield.

Now, with a fanfare and a drum roll, here it is.

Vernon Oak, the 150-year-old oak in Vernon Road, Sheffield is launching a crowdfunder!

Vernon wants to raise enough money to buy a copy of The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris for every primary school in Sheffield. (And I’ve been appointed Vernon’s agent!)

PROJECT COVER PIC

Book with roots: The Lost Words and Vernon Oak

This spellbinding book is about words that are disappearing from children’s vocabularies. Words that are the names for beautiful, wild things like otters, kingfishers, bluebells and newts.

In The Lost Words, Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris take twenty of these words and infuse them with new life through brilliant writing and glorious illustrations. It’s a magical way of summoning the words back into children’s lives.

Acorn Spread

One of Jackie Morris’s illustrations for ‘Acorn’ in The Lost Words

But why does Vernon want to give a copy to every primary school in Sheffield?

Well let’s hand over to Vernon for the answer.

Vernon April 2017

JD: Vernon, thank you for agreeing to do another interview for this blog. Can I start by asking what made you decide to launch this crowdfunder?
Vernon Oak: Until recently, I’ve lived a very quiet life just doing normal tree-things each year, like producing thousands of acorns and giving food and shelter to hundreds of creatures. But since 2015, when Sheffield City Council decided that I was to be felled, I’ve become an active campaigner, speaking out for the thousands of healthy Sheffield trees that are also threatened with felling.

Wherever possible, my campaign has been creative: I’ve helped people to observe, appreciate and celebrate the natural world all around them, even on a city street. The Lost Words is exactly the right book to make people relish and value those things but also to reflect on what we are in danger of losing.

I wanted to do something positive for Sheffield and I know that those who receive the book will find it inspiring.

child heart

A message from one of Vernon’s younger friends

JD: And what’s so special about this book?
VO:
The Lost Words is for everyone. It is ‘wonderful’, ‘breathtaking’ and ‘exquisite’, just as the reviews have said, but it has special meaning for an oak tree which is in real danger of being ‘lost’ too. Once I’ve been felled, is it likely that people will still find acorns on the street or hear the tawny owl hooting at night? I don’t think so. It’s no wonder that the words for such things are disappearing from children’s speech.

Oh, and of course The Lost Words starts with the acorn spell, which is right up my street.

Acorn Poem

JD: It’s a fantastic idea, Vernon. You’re going to bring a lot of joy to Sheffield. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
VO: 
I’d like to thank Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris for creating such a beautiful book. Also, I know Sheffield’s independent bookshop Rhyme and Reason at Hunter’s Bar is helping you with the logistics so I’d like to thank them too.

Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust are  supporting the campaign too, especially through their Teach Wild Network, which is a brilliant initiative to get children learning outside their classroom.

Thanks as well to The Woodland Trust for backing us, and for giving so much support to me and my fellow street trees in Sheffield and elsewhere in the country.

And thanks to all my friends and neighbours who are fighting to keep me in Vernon Road, and especially the ones who are working on this with you.

JDSo all that remains for me to say is:

GOOD LUCK VERNON!

Please support Vernon Oak’s crowdfunder. The target is £3,200, enough for 150 books, and Vernon has just five weeks to do it!

Full details HERE, where you can also pledge your donations!

And for proof of the magical effect this book has on children, go on Twitter and search for #TheLostWords. You’ll see a veritable explosion of creativity inspired through teachers using the book in their classroom.

For more information about the felling of healthy street trees in Sheffield, see the Sheffield Tree Action Groups website here.

My previous interview with Vernon Oak is here, and there’s more about the decision to put Vernon on the felling list here.