Looking for some book present ideas for young people? Perhaps they’ve been fans of the ‘explore and discover’ books and are now teens. Perhaps they’ve got New Zealand Nature Heroes and love to read about nature and be inspired by nature heroes. Here’s my top tips for young people from my reading this year.

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

Dara McAnulty is a young nature hero. His book Diary of a Young Naturalist is a must read for nature lovers, whether teens or adults. 

This book stands out head and shoulders above other books by young people on their nature experiences or activism. Dara is a talented writer and writes with extraordinary perception and intensity about his relationship with the natural world around him.

I am buoyed by the life springing out everywhere, in the garden, in the school grounds, even on the streets around the house. My heart crashes less against my chest. I feel in rhythm with nature, and I start becoming immersed in every moment again, letting each wave hit me and seep in. (May11)

Don’t be misled by the term ‘Diary’, this is much, much more than dates and nature observations. Yes it’s presented as a seasonal diary, one year in Dara’s life, but what a year! It’s the year he turns 16, moves house and changes school. A year in which he gets to do field work with goshawks. A year in which he joins in the first gathering of the Extinction Rebellion movement in Ireland. He doesn’t just record what he sees, he questions what is happening around him.

Imagine seeing curlew or corncrake everyday, bitterns booming from the callows. Just think of cranes on Irish soil – they were a popular pet here on the island of Ireland in the Middle Ages, before they became extinct in the 1500s. Bitterns went later, in the mid-1800s when the wetlands were drained for agriculture, and then the curlew and corncrake followed. Will I ever get to experience abundance? Are we wrong to assume that our ancestors had a stronger connection to nature? (October 13)

And he writes frankly about what it’s like to experience school and other social interactions outside his family as an autistic teen. 

Nature sparks creativity. All we have to do is start with the question, Why? The way my mind whirrs and whirls in nature, or even when ‘daydreaming’, is way more productive than the work I do in school. (December 6)

All readers will get a deeper understanding of what life is like living with autism. And many people, autistic or not, will relate to to his experiences of being bullied or misunderstood. These themes might be unexpected takeaways from a nature book, but I hope they also ensure the book is read and enjoyed by a wide audience. 

I did wonder how much the unfamiliar landscape, animals and plants would affect my reading enjoyment. But the descriptions of different bird species and plants intrigued me and I put the book down wanting to learn more about this part of the world. Most of all I was inspired by Dara’s determination to take action for nature. I’m sure all readers young and old will feel the same.

Highly recommended for 12 years and over.


How to be a Good Creature: a memoir in thirteen animals by Sy Montgomery, illustrated by Rebecca Green

Sy Montgomery is a nature journalist and adventurer, she’s written books and articles about wild animals, such as snow leopards, tarantula, octopus. This book however is a very personal look at her own life, through the animals that she has had a close connection with. She writes about the life lessons she has learned from each creature. As you might expect a close connection means some are pets, several dogs appear as does a domestic pig, but she also talks about wild animals that have inspired her. 

Some other reviewers described this book as ‘sweet’. I’d agree. At times it was a bit too sentimental for me but young people who are devoted to their pets will relate to Sy’s reflections about her relationship with her pets. They’ll also, I hope, see how wild animals can be an inspiration in people’s lives. 

As a child, my father read aloud to our family, from what I thought of as adult books, but which were of interest to all ages. This is just the sort of book that he’d have chosen.

Age 10 and over, younger children may enjoy having this read to them.

Nature Books for Teens