STARRED REVIEW
September 2020

World of Wonders

By Aimee Nezhukumatathil
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Poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s writing often praises the earth and its bounty. In her first nonfiction work, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, Nezhukumatathil expands her reflections into essays accompanied by illustrations by Fumi Nakamura.

Nezhukumatathil’s delight in the world isn’t dulled by the world’s racism, but she doesn’t shy away from sharing her experiences of being on the receiving end of discrimination. In third grade, for example, Nezhukumatathil drew a peacock, her favorite animal, for the class animal-drawing contest. She had just returned from southern India, her father’s native country, and she was elated by its colorful animals. Her teacher was less enamored. “Some of us will have to start over and draw American animals. We live in Ah-mer-i-kah!” the teacher declared after spotting Nezhukumatathil’s drawing.

Both of Nezhukumatathil’s parents are immigrants (her mother is from the Philippines), and throughout World of Wonders, she describes the foundation they laid for her and her sister. As their family moved across the country, her parents encouraged their daughters to experience the outdoors. No matter their ZIP code, Nezhukumatathil followed her curiosity and found a home in the natural world. 

That childhood connection to nature echoes through her adulthood, where plants and animals connect Nezhukumatathil’s present to her past. The catalpa tree offered shade for Nezhukumatathil and her sister as they walked from their home in Kansas to the hospital where their mother worked. When Nezhukumatathil moves to Oxford, Mississippi, to teach at the university, she expects to need the catalpa tree to provide shelter from people’s curiosity about her brown skin. But no one stares at her in Mississippi. Instead, the trees provide shade as she rushes to class, just as they did years ago.

By examining the world around her, Nezhukumatathil finds an ongoing sense of connection to that world, signaling to her like a firefly: “They blink on and off, a lime glow to the summer night air, as if to say: I am still here, you are still here, I am still here, you are still here, I am, you are, over and over again.” World of Wonders is as sparkling as an armful of glass bangles and as colorful as the peacocks that first captured Nezhukumatathil’s imagination. 

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World of Wonders

World of Wonders

By Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Milkweed
ISBN 9781571313652

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