Chosen by Martha Collin
I absolutely love this book – it’s one that arrived at the perfect time, when 2020 was destined to be a bit of hard year for all of us.
Charting a year of Dara McAnulty’s life, the diary looks at all the year throws at him and his family, from moving house and schools to campaigning for the environment, public speaking, being bullied (both in school and online) and learning more about the natural world.
It’s my book of the year for many reasons. So, for this 12 Books of Christmas, I thought I’d explore a few of those reasons and why it would make the perfect gift this festive season.
One: it’s beautifully written. Vivid and engaging, you can immerse yourself within the language and imagery of all thing’s nature. For me, I turned to this book to relax or calm the mind.
Two: it’s inspiring and breaks new ground for youth voices. The connotations that the words “teenage” and “boy” have are at times not the most positive but this book shatters those stereotypes. Dara McAnulty’s voice is mature, passionate, and clear, and those who also feature in the diary are equally as inspiring: friends at school, his family, Greta Thunberg and many other young activists.
Three: it’s eye-opening and unafraid to tread where many books perhaps won’t. Dara and almost all his family are autistic, and the diary explores what it’s like to live with autism and mental health struggles. Autism and mental health are subjects we all need to become understanding of and the diary provides important insight into this.
Four: it’s a read for any time of the year. As the diary charts a year from spring equinox to spring equinox, you can speed through it during spring and summer, open it up in autumn or cosy down with it at Christmas.
Five: you will learn. A lot. For example, did you know that a group of goldfinches is called a charm? From how to nurture nature and act against climate change to UK folklore and coping with online trolls, you will come away knowing a lot more about a wide range of topics than when you started.
Six: it’s the perfect read for any age. Whether you read this to your four-year-old or pick it up as a 70+ year old, it is for everyone. The Wainwright Prize judges have especially urged it to be on the school national curriculum too.
Seven: the accolades keep coming. Having won the Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing in September and an An Post Irish Book Award more recently, the nominations have since snowballed, including: the Baillie Gifford Prize, Books are my Bag, Waterstones Book of the Year and more.
Eight: simply owning this book is owning a little part of history. As a young activist, naturalist, author and immeasurable talent, Dara McAnulty is someone to watch – in my opinion, he’s a legend in the making. With more books to come, more environmental battles to fight, he will be a frequent figure in my lifetime.
To me, Diary of a Young Naturalist is the perfect Christmas read this year. It nurtured my motivation and passion for the environment, but most of all, reading it is a humbling experience and you will come away with a feeling of gratitude for life, nature, family and friends which is exactly what we all need at Christmas and after the year that has been 2020.
Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty
Little Toller Books (21 May 2020)