30 Days Wild Day 26 – ‘Fingers in the Sparkle Jar’ A review. 

Hey everyone, welcome to Day 26 of 30 Days Wild! I’m going for something different today…my first book review and no easy task. I hope you enjoy my humble thoughts.

As I write this, the sky is at its darkest and a fox screams in the distance. I’ve been wrestling with the words to describe my thoughts and feelings on Chris Packham’s memoir ‘Fingers in the Sparkle Jar’, – a gift from Chris when we met at Springwatch; but sometimes, you’re jerked from sleep, and they spill out.
It takes me a while to process things, I’m not sure if all those who are Aspergers feel this, if Chris experiences this, but I get overwhelmed quickly. I was overwhelmed by this book. Interestingly not by the subject matter, because it so mirrors my own experience, my own intensity, my own isolation; but the weight of the words, the density of the language. The landscape of connection to nature that I honestly wondered if anyone else felt, was to me reaffirming and solidifying.

As a young (aspiring) autistic naturalist, the timeless nature of feelings, experiences, obsessions and passions has not wavered between then (1970’s/80’s/2000’s) and now. I always wondered if anyone felt the stabbing and all encompassing obsession that I do. I have labelled bags of feathers and bones; I treasure everything I find in shoeboxes and takeaway boxes. Sometimes, I wake up at 2am just to look at them. We are not the same though, because I love smiling, I get the feeling that young Chris didn’t smile a lot. I probably look really stupid to be fair.

Chris depicts a 1970’s sun bleached haziness that mum and dad told me brought clouds of Ladybirds. I can scarcely imagine it as I’m lucky to see more than one at a time; even then sporadically. I often felt, when reading the book that we, the reader cannot reach him; no matter how much we could relate or nod at certain paragraphs. He is perhaps an island, which disproves the popular musing that it’s not possible. I sometimes feel that we ache for that when reading a book – a connection to the narrator or the protagonist, but it’s curious because the passion of the subject matter transcends the first or third person here. I liked the hopping! To me, the descriptions of kaleidoscopes of butterflies, the feel of the earth, the texture of magical moments, the rise and fall of a Kestrel from take-off to landing…they were all were magical. Not in a wistful way though, they represent obsession and perfection that perhaps few can understand. The language weighted on me and made my heart equally sing and ache. I could smell the probable badger sett. I could ‘see’ everything. The sparking stewing jars of beloved specimens sparkled from the pages and I could smell them. When the sacred jar is smashed in the stream by ignorant bullies, I ached, but I also knew it – the confusion, the closed minds. Those passages were hard to digest. My mum who read the book last year, said the mother in her despaired. I realise, that I would be a totally different person, had I not the parents that I have. She would have marched to their doors and gave them what for, I’ve embarrassingly witnessed this.
I am 13, a year younger than the Kestrel stealing and owning Chris. When I read of the journey he took with this beautiful friend, his first love, I cried for two hours. I couldn’t imagine such pain. Still, my thoughts at 4am…I wanted to rush out the door and steal one for myself. To immerse myself in a wild majestic creature, to look it in the eye, to pass on the love I could unconditionally give it.
I have never written a book review before, I’m probably not following the structure it lends itself to, but I’m going with my gut – which is what I tend to do, without conscience or questioning.

I get the feeling that Chris is a pure and honest person. I have been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this in ‘real life’. When I read that he had contemplated suicide, I couldn’t believe it. He’s a hero of mine. Not many people are. A world without him would be a world without a role model, a world without bravery, without truth, without honesty. There would be no point in hoping that he could share my perspective because it is mine alone. I hope though, that he realises the hope he gives me.
This is a book for those who have felt isolated but also those who are driven towards a world of their own making. It’s a book about resilience and pulling back from the brink. It’s a book of overwhelming beauty, bravery and power. It’s a book that suggests that even the weird kid can make their dreams come true – but maybe they have to find their own identity to do so. Whether it’s punk music (which I love), a social conscience or a passion for facts and truth. They must ‘Shout above the noise’ (that came from the man himself, via Penetration).
I’m re-reading it because you have to, it’s so ‘full’. It’s going to sit beside my bed for a long time, for those reminders that yeah, dreams can come true, even if you can’t hold a conversation or look people in the eye at first.

Thank you for reading


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26 Responses

  1. Hello Dara,
    I saw you on Springwatch last week, and decided to have a look at your blog. I’m an artist and I work with people of all ages and abilities including children and adults with autism. I lot of the work which I do explores encouraging people to use all their senses (especially smell) and not just the visual in what the majority perceive at ‘art & design’.
    I haven’t yet read all of you blog posts yet, but I will do. I did however just read your review of Fingers in The Sparkle Jar. I just wanted to say that I thought it was a spectacular piece of writing. I too related to the descriptions and thoughts and feelings which he so eloquently put across. I used to watch the Really Wild Show, and have loved watching Chris ever since. He’s my hero as well. The comments you made about the suicide reference and Chris almost brought me to tears. Sometimes it’s difficult to realise that some people can have so much influence over one another.
    I lost my dog recently. She was almost 14 but she didn’t look or act like it, and although I was aware of the inevitable the actual reality has knocked me for six. The relationship which I formed with my dog was stronger than any human contact I’ve ever experienced. The reason I am telling you this is because one thing which has helped me through this experience is knowing that he experienced the same thing with both his bird and his dog. Before I read his book I thought that maybe I was creating too much of a bond or emotional attachment to my dog, but now I know that’s ok. and I’m glad I did because I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
    I’m wittering on here, I was only going to write a short comment, but felt that I wanted you to know that being different is one thing which I encourage, and that what you have is really special.
    I’ll look forward to reading your blog in the future.

    1. Hi Emma thank you so much for your comment and sharing your story. I think our relationship with animals shouldn’t be underestimated. Chris is a really amazing person. I’ve met him and I can see through most people- despite having Aspergers- I think I have a heightened sense of awareness and caution when I meet people. Thank you for the great work you are doing. I’m a witterer too so don’t worry!

      Thank you so much
      Dara ☺️

  2. Hello Dara. I thought your review summed up my own thoughts about Chris’s book. Even down to the point of ‘ not being able to reach him’.

    I think your way with words is truly impressive and hope we see much more from you.

    I loved the book and I love your review.

  3. Well, you say you struggled with this but, goodness, it is a wonderful piece of writing. As you know I loved it too. I still baulk st the smashing of the jar and wept too at the loss of his kestrel. It is painfully, searingly honest. I recognised much of the feelings of difference and isolation he experienced as a child and cheered at his ultimate triumph. I loved the shift between the two narrative perspectives -it allowed me as a reader to absorb and cope with each section. It is such an important book and your review addresses and celebrates that. I look forward to reading your next one! If a student of mine had written this, I think I would cheer!????

    1. Hahahaha thank you so much Deborah, sometimes I surprise myself (if I go by other people’s opinion on my writing) but I always feel I could have done better. I’ve been surprising my English teacher too ???? Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Dara ☺️

  4. Very good book review. It’s not easy writing reviews but you have done a brilliant job.
    I’m looking forward to reading this book, I have it on reserve in my local library.
    I remember watching Chris on the Really Wild Show. It was one of my favourite shows and he inspired a lot of people to care for wildlife. He still does.
    One of my brothers has Aspergus and I’ve seen how nature has helped him. He finds it very calming.
    I will send a link to your blog so he can read it.
    Love reading the blog. Like other people on here, I saw you on Springwatch and thought i’d have a look. I’m glad I did. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much. Mum and dad were great fans of The Really Wild Show too (even though they were well into their teens). I hope your brother finds something he likes if he visits the blog!

      Dara ☺️

  5. Reading Chris’s book gave me a much deeper understanding of Aspergers, and it’s affects on peoples’ lives. Your blog has reinforced this, Dara, and shown me the beauty that is all around us, if we really look. Keep smiling, it’s a ‘hug’ without the ‘touch’, if you see what I mean!

  6. I think your first book review came out very well, and I really appreciated reading your thoughts on this. I read the book last year, and again earlier this year. I think you are exactly right when you say that the book is so ‘full’, and I totally agree about the weight of the words and the density of the language. That’s very well put. When I read the book, I could see a lot of my own experience echoed in there, but also quite a bit that wasn’t like me at all (of course, I’m a different person!). One thing that I know very well and that comes across in the book is the intense experience of nature, the immersion in it, the connection, the magic. This is what I feel in relation to nature as well, but I could also feel it in Chris’ words – I could see the sights, smell the smells as he writes about them.
    In a way it’s an upsetting book – no, upsetting is the wrong word, what I mean to say is that it stirs up a lot of emotions in you. I can understand that you were up at 4 am writing your thoughts! Enjoy the re-reading of the book. Even when you have finished it, you are not finished with it, if you know what I mean.

      1. You are welcome. I follow your blog, but I also follow you on twitter, only there I am called museummaus. I’m only telling you this so you know it’s the same person. ????

  7. What an outstanding review! Such powerful writing. I have still to finish the book – it is far too rich and emotion filled for me to read all at once. But like you I’m a great fan of Mr Packham. Both of you must continue!

  8. Thought I’d posted a reply here but obviously didn’t . Great review. Very professional.

  9. Hi Dara,

    I just wanted to tell you how amazing you are. As with many others, I saw you on Springwatch and you made such an impression on me that I wanted to read your blog. Your review of the book is wonderful, I haven’t yet read it, although it is on my list (I’m a very slow reader so have quite a long list!), and your review has just pushed it right to the top.

    I felt quite emotional reading your review as I was with a partner who had Aspergers for almost four years. He was also fantastic with words and loved word games. His other passion was wood and he was always very keen to share his passion with others, he teaches people to make coracles and makes plates and bowls to sell. He has turned his passion into a way of making a living, something I’m sure that you too will do. He was very lucky to have grown up on a nature reserve which he knew like the back of his hand. I remember him taking me for a night walk around it, and he knew where every single tree was. He taught me to listen to the trees by putting my ear up against the bark (smooth bark works best) and also the different smells of wood.

    I can identify a little with your feelings of not fitting in and difficulty communicating with others, although for me it was because I’m an introvert rather than Aspergers 🙂 I struggled in my teenage years and early adult life to accept myself as I was always comparing myself to others and feeling that there was something wrong with me. However thankfully an awareness of the existence of different personality types has enabled me to accept myself and I now actually love the person I am. Being outside and immersing myself in nature is my favourite way of relaxing, it is where I feel happiest and most content. Like you and Chris I collect things I find, although I suspect my collection is much smaller as I do restrict myself a little. I have a far larger collection of photos of the things I’ve seen, as I love trying to identify everything… a task easier said than done!

    Chris Packham has been a hero of mine ever since I used to watch him on The Really Wild Show, and your review summed him up exactly how I see him. Keep following your passion and you never know, maybe you’ll follow in his footsteps and inspire the next generation of naturalists. In fact I’m sure you are already doing that. I’m looking forward to reading your future blogs 🙂


    1. Hi Kate. Thank you so much for your lovely message and for sharing your experiences. Your partner sounded amazing, he sounds like a really connected person as do you. If you ever feel like showing me your photos, I’d like to see them.

      Thank you so much


  10. Superbly written Dara. I’m having a hard time reading this book – I’ve had to take weeks off between some chapters, as Chris’s growing up seems so tough (at least how I see it – he doesn’t seem to complain or ever describe it that way). I hope your teenage years are easier for you! Keep blogging – and reviewing. Great stuff.
    Ps If you’re still at birdfair – try to visit the manton bay hides first thing.

    1. Thank you so much! I can empathise, it’s a challenging read and my teenage years are better BECAUSE of people like Chris and the increasing awareness of Autism. A long way to go to acceptance rather than tolerance! I left Birdfair on Saturday but I’ll definitely be back. I’ve just written a blog all about it ☺️
      Thank you
      Dara ☺️????

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