Tag Archives: books for children

Word for Wednesday: Y is for yesteryear.

I was reading an online article from the Guardian newspaper yesterday about the changing face of the language of childhood.  Reflecting on it now, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it.

Apparently the editorial team at the Oxford University Press have made some amendments and updates for the forthcoming edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary, resulting in the removal of around fifty words relating to nature and the countryside.  Words such as magpie, newt, otter and hamster have been removed; replaced with words such as ‘cut and paste’, broadband and analogue.  All of these, of course, represent the increasingly digital world that our children are growing up in.

The changes have roused such passions that twenty eight notable authors, including Margaret Atwood, Andrew Motion and Michael Morpurgo amongst others, have written to the OUP expressing their concerns.

According to the Guardian, the signatories to the letter are:

‘ “profoundly alarmed” about the loss of a slew of words associated with the natural world from the Oxford Junior Dictionary, and their replacement with words “associated with the increasingly interior, solitary childhoods of today”.

[This is] “not just a romantic desire to reflect the rosy memories of our own childhoods onto today’s youngsters.  There is a shocking, proven connection between the decline in natural play and the decline in children’s wellbeing.”

“Will the removal of these words from the OJD ruin lives? Probably not,” say the authors. “But as a symptom of a widely acknowledged problem that is ruining lives, this omission becomes a major issue. The Oxford Dictionaries have a rightful authority and a leading place in cultural life. We believe the OJD should address these issues and that it should seek to help shape children’s understanding of the world, not just to mirror its trends.” ‘

This is not the first time that the OUP has faced a public outcry about changes to inclusions in the children’s dictionary.  In 2008, responding to a previous outcry, the response from OUP was that  “When you look back at older versions of dictionaries, there were lots of examples of flowers for instance. That was because many children lived in semi-rural environments and saw the seasons. Nowadays, the environment has changed.”


Yesteryear (noun).

  • last year 
  • time gone by
  • the recent past
  • last year, or the recent past, especially as nostalgically recalled.

Derivation: yesterday + year.  First known use: 1870.  According to dictionary.com it was coined 1870 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti from yester(day)  year.  He was translating from the French antan (from Latin anteannum “the year before”) in refrain by François Villon: Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?, which Rossetti rendered “But where are the snows of yesteryear?”

It makes me sad to think that there is almost a sense of resignation that many children of this generation are so detached from the natural world.  That it is okay for them to confine their horizons to computers, technology, and what happens within the home.

I respect the signatories for their commitment to protecting the resilience of our children’s wider language and their connection to the natural world.  But I do not think it is OUP’s responsibility – or any other publishing house for that matter – to choose words strategically, in an effort to change the way our children interact with their world.  Surely if that job belongs to anyone, it belongs to us as parents?

I also think that it would be wrong to try to stop the evolution of the language of childhood.  Of course they need to know words that we didn’t need to know when we were children; the world has changed since then!  But it is important to keep a mix of both the old and the new.  There is almost definitely room for both ‘magpie’ and ‘modem’ in their sponge-like little brains!


B is for buttercup!


Word for Wednesday: N is for…Nabarlek!

Okay, so those of you who know me well, know I am a bit of a nature nerd.  And I am also rapidly working towards turning my little girl into a voracious bookworm and fledgling linguaphile.  All great things to aspire to, in my opinion! But then I guess I’d have to say that, wouldn’t I?!

“‘I’m a N-N-Nabarlek,’ it stammered,

‘Don’t laugh, please, it’s true.

I’m definitely not a wallaby, or even a kangaroo.'”

(David Cadji-Newby, The little girl who lost her name).

Nabarlek (noun).

The nabarlek (Petrogale concinna), also known as the pygmy rock-wallaby or the little rock-wallaby, is a very small species of macropod found in northern Australia. It was formerly considered distinct enough to be assigned its own genus, Peradorcas, but it is now considered to belong, like the rest of the rock-wallabies, in the genus Petrogale.

(Source: wikipedia)

One of my very best friends in the world bought a truly inspired present for our girly for her first birthday.  One of the most brilliant children’s books I’ve ever seen.  Not least because inside, we found our first Nabarlek together!  I do not blog for money, none of my posts are advertising fodder or sponsored in anyway.  So believe me when I say that I really do think that ‘The little girl/boy who lost her/his name‘ books are utterly fantastic!

In their own words, “We are three dads and an uncle, who started all this as a DIY project (it beats putting up wonky shelves). The aim was to make the best personalised book in the world. Yeah. We know. But hey, if you’re not going to be ambitious, what’s the point?”. 

I’m just one mum, but I for one think they are indeed the most awesome personalised book that I’ve ever seen.  And there are obviously a few other fans too, because they are now a successful, thriving, fully-fledged business, rather than a part-time, very ambitious ‘DIY project’.  I love a good success story.

The books are personalised and structured around your child’s own name, which is such a special way to involve little people in reading.  The story takes you on a little journey to find the child’s name, meeting weird and wonderful new friends like the nabarlek on the way.

David Cadji-Newby is a British writer, who weaves the most lyrical of stories, using wonderful words like ‘courageous’ and ‘glamourous’.  Charming and witty, and not a goat in a boat or a cat on a mat to be seen.  It is a real revelation in writing for children.

copymarked by me, because it is my photo, but the credit for the creative talent lies entirely with the illustrator Pedro Serapicos.

The books in the series are illustrated by Pedro Serapicos, to whom credit for the illustration above belongs. He has a really fresh, distinctive style, which perfectly brings to life the words on the page.

Our little girl loves looking at the pictures and is so thrilled when we get to the end in a flurry of excitement because we’ve found her name.  Still a long way off, but I am looking forward to seeing what happens when she can read it herself. I can pretty much guarantee that it will be amongst the favourites in her growing book collection.

Did you ever have a personalised children’s book that you loved? Or have you bought one for someone else?  There are so many birthday parties when your children are little, and books are usually my first choice of gift.  Inspiration would be very welcome!

Word for Wednesday: H is for Halcyon.

Halycon (adjective).

  • very happy and successful
  • calm, peaceful days
  • happy, golden times
  • prosperous, affluent
  • carefree

Derivation: Middle English alceon, from Latin halcyon, from Greek alkyōn, halkyōn.  First Known Use: 14th Century.

The halcyon days of childhood, a time when everything lay open before him, when the most minor episodes could be construed as events and every chance encounter gave rise to fresh insights.

Ivan Klíma

Normally the inspiration for my Word for Wednesday comes from a book I am reading, or have read / loved / am looking for an excuse to return to.  But this week is a little unconventional in that I had to go looking for a quote to fit the circumstances.  Having found this lovely quote by the Czech novelist and playwright, Ivan Klíma, I have now bought his novel, Love and Garbage.  I suppose it’s one way to discover different writers, and at least I can read a little more of his work to justify my blind quotation!

Anyway, the first stimulus for my thoughts of halycon days was our new, very noisy neighbours of the feathered variety.  A beautiful pair of kingfishers (there are a number of different Kingfishers within the genus, Halycon!)  I am delighted to have them here, but if you’ve ever identified a Kingfisher’s call, you will know that it is really raucous, not to mention disproportionately loud and incessant for such a diminutive bird!

Passed down from the tales of Ovid, the mythological forebear of the Kingfisher comes from ancient legend.  The Halcyon was believed to nest at sea, calming the waves around the time of the December winter solstice for a couple of weeks.  Just long enough to incubate and hatch their eggs, floating on their seaborne nest.   Although whatever the legend says about the calming powers of the Halcyon, in the here and now, the ‘calm, peaceful’ sense of the definition certainly does not apply to my new feathered friends!

By the time Shakespeare got to using ‘halycon’ in the 16th century, the phrase ‘halcyon days’ no longer related to the mythical bird, and instead had changed to be a metaphor for calm days. Moving on again, in modern use, ‘halcyon days’ is often used as a figurative reflection of a carefree past and better times gone by.  And bizarrely the seasonal connotation has flipped completed, as it now goes hand in hand with thoughts of summer and sunny days, whereas it was originally related to the dead of winter.  A very convoluted history for a single word, and just one of the glories of a complex, living language!

The second impetus for this week’s word choice is that I’ve been thinking about university and new beginnings recently.  It is getting to that time of year where students are heading off to their dorms for a new academic year, or in some cases, leaving home for the first time.

Those heady, halycon days of – for many – that first real taste of freedom and independence.  I don’t hark back to my university days particularly.  I am very happy with my life in my thirties – probably more than I have been at any other time (yet!).  But there is something wonderful about that time in your life when everything is still ahead of you, but you still have the relative shelter of transition between life at home with your parents, and setting out on your own path in the big wide world.  I don’t know that all that uncertainty seemed halcyon at the time, but I guess that is part of the rose-tinting that comes with reflection and hindsight.




This photograph comes from a wander around Oxford on a sunny summer’s day last year.  I’m pretty sure  the building falls under the purview of Christ Church College, which is one of the many colleges under the umbrella of Oxford University.  The children’s author Lewis Carroll was an Oxonion; an alumnus of Oxford University.  More specifically, he was a fellow of Christ Church College, and may well have walked along the same path that I did, many years earlier. And what an inspiration such a setting must have been.

Strolling along on a glorious sunny day I can fully imagine Alice, sat with Dinah the cat under the shade of one of the many trees, reading and day dreaming about her wonderland adventures.  Although the word ‘halcyon’ is not used here, this quote for me is the absolute definition of halcyon days. Everything still to play for, and no such thing as a wrong choice:

Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked.

‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat.

‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.

‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter’.

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.

SO, that’s one word, two meanings, two seasons, and two birds – living and legend.  Also a wonderful quote using the word, and a quote giving the sense of the word, wrapped in a beautiful example of hyperbole and nonsense, typical of Lewis Carroll at his best.  I think that will do for today…I’m sure I never worked this hard at university!  Halcyon days indeed!