Poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil (Oceanic) stuns with her nonfiction debut, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, delightfully illustrated by Fumi Nakamura. These essays explore the natural world and the human experience, finding parallels, meaning and beauty in the intersections.
"A catalpa can give two brown girls in western Kansas a green umbrella from the sun," Nezhukumatathil begins. This is an apt and representative line: place-specific, beautifully phrased, with reference to some of the identities these essays will explore. They are mostly titled for the plants and creatures they focus on, with a few exceptions. The red-spotted newt and dragon fruit that title their respective essays receive Nezhukumatathil's attentive study and, yes, wonder, but the author's own experience is always a second thread. She brings a poet's ear for language and an eye for commonality and metaphor, both reverent of the natural world and specific in her own story.
World of Wonders offers a series of brief naturalist lessons, but is perhaps at its best in drawing connections, as between the axolotl's smile and what to do "if a white girl tries to tell you what your brown skin can and cannot wear for makeup." "And just like the potoo, who is rewarded for her stillness by having her lunch practically fly right to her mouth--perhaps you could try a little tranquility, find a little tenderness in your quiet. Who knows what feathered gifts await?" Wisdom, wonder and beauty make this slim collection one to treasure. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia