Diary of a Young Naturalist.
by Dara McAnulty |Little Toller Books | 304pp | £16 hb | 9781908213792
‘We watch in collective wonder as countless silver Y moths feast on the purple blooms. Some rest, drunk with nectar, before refilling, whirling and dancing in constant motion; even at rest their wings are quivering like leaves in a storm. The feather-like scales, brown flecked with silver are shimmering with starry dust, protecting them from being eaten by other nocturnal neighbours.’
Diary of a Young Naturalist is a stunning début by a young Irish writer, naturalist, conservationist and activist, Dara McAnulty. Released earlier this year, pre-lockdown—the book was well received and acted as a pertinent reminder for people to look after the environment before our focus shifted sharply to another pressing matter. But now more than ever, this book is an ideal read as it emphasises the true beauty on our doorstep (in particular, in counties Fermanagh and Down) and how incredibly beneficial it can be to immerse oneself in nature for a number of reasons, such as promoting good mental health and positive well-being.
The book is captivating from its eye-catching yellow cover to its gorgeous endpapers, but the true worth lies inside, pressed between the elegantly designed chapters. McAnulty is a natural writer—his words lift off the page, his voice is clear and distinct. His descriptive writing highlights his love of nature and its restorative powers. As well as describing the changing seasons in all their glory, his descriptions of what it’s like to be on the spectrum are enlightening.
Most of us can relate to how it feels like to be overstimulated or overwhelmed. A lot of people have experienced overactive thoughts and a flood of emotions, but for some people with sensory processing disorder (SPD) or if they are affected by autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) any new experience or daily outing can be challenging. Dara McAnulty describes the different ways both he and the different members of his family feel overwhelmed. Dara, his mother and his siblings are all on the autistic spectrum. ‘All three of us stim – “stimming” is a word used to describe the self-stimulatory behaviours of those on the autistic spectrum. Lorcan uses sounds, squeaks, grunts, purrs, whistles, groans. Bláthnaid twirls her fingers, hand-flaps and makes sucking-in noises which she calls “fluorescent stress-taking movements”.’ How McAnulty and his family cope when they feel overwhelmed will be immensely helpful to a number of readers—mainly by getting out in the fresh air and observing and appreciating nature. Diary of a Naturalist will encourage you to appreciate nature and the changing seasons. Nature lovers will find it captivating.
Síne Quinn, M.Phil Children’s Literature, is the managing editor at Cubicle 7 Entertainment. A Children’s Books Ireland book doctor and creative-writing teacher with the Bookmarks programme at TCD, she also provides editorial and writing support to publishers. Holy Shocking Saints: the extraordinary lives of twelve Irish saints by Síne Quinn and Margaret Anne Suggs is due out at the end of October.