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Springing back into action with a book about nature

By Barbara Henderson

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Seven sparrows, two crows, three blackbirds, two robins, a dunnock and a goldcrest.

I pressed ‘submit results’. A moment later the screen read ‘Thank you for taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch 2021.’

I switched the computer off and stared through the window for a little longer. For the past few years, we have religiously taken part in the annual RSPB initiative. In my head, it has become synonymous with the end of winter, give or take a few more weeks of icy north wind.

Connecting with the natural world is a tonic for the soul, and just about the only area of our lives which has not been entirely curtailed by restrictions over the past year. This week, it feels, spring is finally springing and BOY, am I ready!

Imagine my joy when writer Louise Greig’s and illustrator Julia Moscardo’s beautiful picture book Home of the Wild came through the door. Receiving wonderful, unexpected book-post is one of the greatest delights of writing this column, and I found myself connecting with this story on an emotional level.

I grew up on the edge of a forest, and deer regularly strayed into our garden. Foxes, owls, rabbits; tracks and traces of hedgehogs and hares – these things defined my childhood.

Like a fishing line, this gently lyrical story reeled me back. The publishers Floris Books described Home of the Wild as ‘a labour of lockdown love which celebrates Scotland’s beloved great outdoors’, but at its heart it is a story of a boy’s care for a wild creature, and a recognition of the wilderness in us all.

Home of the Wild.
Home of the Wild.

Greig is a poet from Aberdeen, and I’d argue that the book demands to be read aloud, to fully appreciate the magic of her words. A gentle picture book to soothe the soul.

Closer to home, as I write this column, I wait eagerly for the results of the Scottish Nature Photography Awards. There is an open vote category for Favourite Scottish Nature Photography Book, and local boy Andy Howard is on the shortlist with his stunning The Secret Life of the Cairngorms.

The 11-strong shortlist features a surprising majority of books about islands including Lewis, Harris, Orkney and Hirta, as well as more general Scotland-type titles – and the odd ones out, Pockets of Pretty (an Instagrammer’s Guide to Edinburgh) and Fragile (a book about eggs, birds and habitats).

The winners will be announced later in March and I am crossing everything to be the lucky voter who has won the entire shortlist.

As you read this, Scottish schools will have found ways to celebrate World Book Day remotely this week.

I am kept busy with editing deadlines and online events and am gearing up for not one but two books coming out this year, my own labour of lockdown love.

But not before staring out of the window at the birds some more (a female sparrowhawk and a male blackcap have become regular visitors) and perhaps taking the dog for a walk in the woods.

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