By Mia Hoppel

While we (not so) patiently wait for the last frost to rear its head and the weather to warm, why not read a new-to-you book about plants and nature? Mia Hoppel—Philadelphia high school student, home gardener, and volunteer gardener with the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education as well as Laurel and West Laurel Hill Cemetery—rounded up four of her recent favorite books on nature, ranging from the story of a teenage climate activist in Northern Ireland to Robin Wall Kimmerer's critically acclaimed Braiding Sweetgrass.  

Diary of a Young Naturalist
By Dara McAnulty
Ebury Press, 2021

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

 

Diary of a Young Naturalist tells the story of 15-year-old Dara McAnulty, a young climate activist from Northern Ireland. His journal entries are separated by season, allowing the reader to witness changes in the natural world alongside the changes in McAnulty himself as he gets older and his perspective evolves. This is a heartwarming tale, which offers insight into the struggles young people are facing today. From the expected difficulties that come with growing up during a pandemic and climate crises, McAnulty, an autistic teenager, is in the middle of it all, balancing schoolwork, activism, personal relationships, and his deep care for the environment. McAnulty’s writings on nature are vivid, drawing the reader into the moment and sharing everything he’s witnessed, from the smallest creature to the tallest mountain. McAnulty has done incredible work as an activist and is the youngest ever recipient of the RSBP Medal, but Diary of a Young Naturalist is not wholly about activism; it’s a book containing a year of McAnulty’s life in which climate activism is an intrinsic aspect. His joy in nature is what draws the reader in; it’s inspiring, hopeful, and offers a relatable experience of the natural world.

 

 

Forest
By Matt Collins
Photography by Roo Lewis
Chronicle Books, 2020

Forest by Matt Collins.

 

Forest is filled with compelling stories and gorgeous photography separated into ten chapters, each telling the story of a specific tree: pine, hornbeam, Douglas Fir, oak, juniper, birch, chestnut, poplar, beech, and cherry. Based in London, author Matt Collins and photographer Roo Lewis travel to several different countries, visiting different locations in which they find these trees, including tree farms, forests, wolf preserves, and even a woodworker’s shop. Forest is not an expert’s guide on trees, and does not tell very much in terms of their biological composition or functions. It is nonfiction told like fiction: a compelling and engaging story of a tree lover going to interesting places in which trees can be found and exploring their relationship with the humans around them—something anyone who enjoys trees can relate to. The book itself reads like a walk in the forest, ambling peacefully from one tree to the next, and this aspect coupled with the stunning photography makes it a favorite on my shelf. If you could contain a forest within a book, it would look like this one.

 

 

The Botanical Bible
by Sonya Patel Ellis
Abrams, 2018

The Botanical Bible by Sonya Patel Ellis

 

The Botanical Bible does many things: it’s an introduction to botany, recipe book, gardening guide, overview of nature-inspired art, and a story about humans and plants. As a book, its purpose is to provide the reader with the ability to engage with nature on a deeper level, and it begins with basic botany and the history of horticulture, providing the groundwork for what is to come in its pages. After using the beginning of this book to tell the origins of the story of plants, Sonya Patel Ellis shares many different uses for the plants in question: how to grow your own food, recipes for seasonal eating, how to create plant-based remedies for health and beauty, recipes for housekeeping, and different types of nature-inspired art. All of this is thoughtfully compiled and placed in The Botanical Bible alongside gorgeous photography and illustrations, making it a beautiful book to have on the coffee table, and it gives readers the resources to build a strong relationship with the environment. Whether that relationship is built through art, gardening, cooking, or something else, the recipes and ideas are available in this book.

 

 

Braiding Sweetgrass
By Robin Wall Kimmerer
Milkweed Editions, 2013

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

 

Braiding Sweetgrass is an incredibly well-written book, and it’s packed with good information. Robin Wall Kimmerer tells her tale as a mother, botanist, professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, weaving together stories from different periods of her life and creating a narrative in which the reader can see the interplay of all these aspects. Her experiences in each of these areas have built her relationship with nature, and she is able to skillfully share that relationship by relating her experiences and her beliefs on the environment. Braiding Sweetgrass is full of the author’s love of the world coupled with the environmental tragedies of today, which can have a gut-wrenching impact. These stories are mirrored in Kimmerer’s personal life, creating an interconnected and compelling book that is tied to the author’s deep knowledge and understanding of plants, built through her career as a scientist and through indigenous teachings. Altogether, this is an emotional and eye-opening book, providing wonderful information and a compelling perspective on society and the environment.

 

 

 

 

 

Mia Hoppel is a Philadelphia high school senior with a passion for gardening and writing. She is a volunteer gardener at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education’s native plant garden, a frequent volunteer with the Laurel and West Laurel Hill Cemetery’s horticulture team, and maintains a home garden. She is an editor and writer for Planet A, a journal of environmental writing and art for young people ages 8-18.