Book of the Year - Non-fiction: Narrative

Introduction

The judges for this category will have a tough time choosing between these books: a natural historian, a former president and a Second World War veteran are just some of the authors on this list. Weaving a string between all of these books is the remarkable stories they tell and the important topics they tackle, from racism to climate change to hopefulness.

Winner

Diary of a Young Naturalist

Diary of a Young Naturalist

Dara McAnulty

Little Toller

Dorset-based indie Little Toller Books had been following and supporting Dara McAnulty’s development as a writer on his blog for many years before it acquired Diary of a Young Naturalist. The author was just 14 when he penned his diary following a year in his life juggling home, school, nature and activism, and so the publisher worked hard to nurture the manuscript at a pace he and his family were comfortable with. The result is a book that is “eloquent, hopeful and an inspiration and encouragement for us all to connect to the natural world around us,” thought one judge.

When it came to designing the cover, the publisher commissioned artist Barry Falls, who spent a day with the author walking to the teenager’s favourite places in order to better understand him and the landscape he writes of. The design became integral to the book’s positioning: hopeful, eye-catching and representative of the author.

The four-person team also impressed with its marketing and publicity efforts. It sent out proof copies for the first time in Little Toller’s history, and planned events and publicity a year ahead of publication, securing a coveted Radio 4 “Book of the Week” slot. “An incredible achievement,” the judges said.

The Shortlist

  • A Promised Land by Barack Obama
    Viking
    Barack Obama’s third title was slated as “the biggest book of the decade” by Waterstones ahead of its November release. The presidential memoir took a deep dive into Obama’s time at the White House with his family; “701 pages of elegantly written narrative, contemplation and introspection” said the Guardian. The author-read audio edition is nominated for Audiobook of the Year, too.
  • A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough
    Witness Books
    This urgent statement about the climate emergency is a blend of memoir and polemic, celebrating Sir David Attenborough’s career with black and white photographs throughout. Ebury won the title at auction and launched globally in October, co-ordinating with the accompanying WWF and Netflix film, as well as the author’s work with Prince William and the BBC.
  • Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty
    Little Toller
    Dara McAnulty was 14 when he penned his diary, following a year in his life as a young naturalist as he juggled home, school, nature and activism. Little Toller put everything it had behind the book, and it won the Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing and the Hay Festival Book of the Year, among a splattering of other award nods.
  • Tomorrow Will Be A Good Day by Captain Sir Tom Moore
    Michael Joseph
    Captain Sir Tom Moore was catapulted to national fame in March last year when he walked laps of his garden to raise money for the NHS; the Second World War veteran was 99 years old at the time. Penguin Michael Joseph acquired his autobiography in April and it was impressively published in multiple editions just five months later.
  • Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake
    The Bodley Head
    Vintage won Merlin Sheldrake’s unique book about fungi as an under-bidder at auction and started its campaign 14 months prior to publication. The team utilised interviews and appearances, as well as partnering with mushroom farm GroCycle to send growing kits to key buyers. The cover design stood out too, featuring a beautiful luminous image of fungi.
  • Me And White Supremacy by Layla F Saad
    Quercus
    This book began life in 2018 as a 28-day challenge on Layla F Saad’s Instagram, asking people with white privilege to examine how they are complicit in upholding white supremacy. Quercus focused its early efforts on podcasts and digital media, alongside a massive word-of-mouth campaign: Saad now has over 700,000 followers online.