World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments

by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Other authorsFumi Nakamura (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 2020



Call number

QL791 .N425


Milkweed Editions (2020), Edition: 1, 184 pages


"From beloved, award-winning poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil comes a debut work of nonfiction-a collection of essays about the natural world, and the way its inhabitants can teach, support, and inspire us"--

User reviews

LibraryThing member cathyskye
Seventeen of Aimee Nezhukumatathil's twenty-two students had never seen-- or even heard of-- fireflies. Instead of exploring the world around them, they spend their free time indoors in front of the screens of televisions, computers, and phones. This series of essays tells of Aimee's love of the
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natural world, how it has sustained her and inspired her throughout the years.

The author has lived in a variety of places in the United States: on the grounds of a mental institution in Kansas, in the mountains of Arizona, and in the colder climes of Ohio and western New York. Daughter of a Filipino mother and an Indian father, Aimee and her sister often lived in areas where there were extremely few people of color, and people could be hurtful. Many are the times that something in the natural world, be it a tree, an insect, or any other living thing sustained Aimee and helped her cope.

Having explored the natural world and become acquainted with its balm and solace, I enjoyed this series of essays, in particular one entitled "Questions While Searching for Birds with My Two Half-White Sons, Aged Six and Nine, National Audubon Bird Count Day, Oxford, MS." While simple in form, this essay was so vivid that I could easily picture it and enjoy all it had to say.

If you would like to spend an afternoon in the natural world learning about some of its wonders and becoming acquainted with a very talented writer, pick up a copy of World of Wonders. Afterward, go outside to appreciate the flowers, the sky, and the birdsong.
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LibraryThing member jnwelch
I spent an exceptionally pleasant afternoon reading this gem by acclaimed poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil, World of Wonders. Is there a "nature memoir" book category? She lovingly praises parts of nature that have struck her fancy.

"It is this way with wonder: it takes a bit of patience, and it takes
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putting yourself in the right place at the right time. It requires that we be curious enough to forgo our small distractions in order to find the world.

“How can one even imagine us getting back to a place where we know the names of the trees we walk by every single day? A place where “a bird” navigating a dewy meadow is transformed into something more specific, something we can hold onto by feeling its name on our tongues: brown thrasher. Or that “big tree”: catalpa. Maybe what we can do when we feel overwhelmed is to start small. Start with what we have loved as kids and see where that leads us.”

She uses these small starts to lead her to musing about their relationship to her life - as a child, as a mother, as a wife and as a poet. some of my favorite chapters were about potoos (little birds that eat mosquitoes), dragonfruit (a childhood delicacy) and fireflies, which take her in several directions. Flamingos remind her of nights joyfully dancing as a teen, and the fear of encountering a bad guy on the dark walk home. Some things remind her of her experiences as a brown girl among whites.

“I began scribbling in notebooks and notebooks, trying to write my way into being since I never saw anyone who looked like me in books, movies, or videos. None of this writing was what I would remotely call poetry, but I know it had a lyric register. I was teaching myself (and badly copying) metaphor. I was figuring out the delight and pop of music, and the electricity on my tongue when I read out loud. I was at the surface again. I was once more the girl who had begged my parents and principal to let me start school a whole year early. And I was hungry.”

This is one worth owning. Kudos to my bride for giving it to me.
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LibraryThing member dele2451
A beautiful exploration of the world and one brown woman's place in it. Thoughtful, quietly powerful, and full of interesting bits of knowledge on all sorts of little-known wildlife--it will propel you to take your kids, grandkids, or friends outdoors at once.
LibraryThing member zeborah
A memoir formed by a series of essays, each taking a (beautifully illustrated) animal or other manifestation of nature as metaphor for some aspect of her life: the love of her Indian/Filipina family; the racist and misogynist society around them; forming her own family and career; concern about
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humanity's effect on the environment and on itself.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
From its gorgeous cover, to the wonderful excerpts within, this book was a delight. What a unique way to tell parts of one's life while enlightening the reader to so many unique parts of nature. The dancing frog, I can just imagine this tiny frog dancing on a rock to attract a mate, to the hardy
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cactus wren, the largest wren at seven inches. Cara cara oranges, with pink insides, the giving of citrus a token of love. Glass jangling bracelets and the cute axolotl. The magic of fireflies and butterflies. The stinky, unusual corpse flower. Nature in all it's glory and uniqueness.

Each tied to a part of the authors life, memories entwined with nature and the things she sees, admires. Her family moved alot, starting over as a child she read much, noticed much. Nature became her friend, a constant, in all parts of our country and other countries as well. Short chapters each illuminating a particular subject with ties to herself. I loved when she said that she learned to be still by watching birds. To find the tranquility and tenderness in your quietness.

This last year of Covid seclusion, my trips to my river have provided me with a keen sense of just how much nature can give back. We really need to notice, take care of and cherish it more than we do.
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LibraryThing member streamsong
Short essays about the absolutely astounding flora and fauna with which we share the world. Some of these were familiar to me, such as whale sharks, peacocks and fireflies. Others, including Potoos, Dancing Frogs and Vampire Squid were entirely new.

There are so many wonderful beings living just
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beyond the edge of our knowledge. You’ll be glad you discovered them.

She also recalls her childhood as a brown child (Indian and Phillipino) in white places.

Uplifting and written with a poet’s turn of phrase. I will be looking for more by this author and looking forward to seeking out her poetry.
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LibraryThing member kordasix
Such beautiful writing. I have a newfound appreciation for some things I'd never even given much thought to before.
LibraryThing member albertgoldfain
Bits of biography poetically told against the construct of naturalist encyclopedia entries. I was mildly annoyed that the author used 'Western New York' throughout in describing where some of her observations are taking place rather than being location specific.
LibraryThing member swbesecker
I can't do it. I tried so hard to like this book but I can't. It's pointless, all over the place, and reads more like someone’s (really boring) diary. While I found the corpse flower details interesting, the tiny bit of interest did not warrant me struggling to finish what, in my humble opinion,
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is an incredibly boring read. I am astonished at it's good reviews which is why I chose to read it - and book of the year??? Wow. I guess you can't trust goodreads star average anymore as this is not the first time I chose a book based on high star averages and found it seriously wanting. I usually enjoy books that center on nature, but this one was more about her poetic thoughts regarding her personal experiences in a diary-type prose that somehow she believes relates to or reminds her of some quaint creature. No thanks. Quite possibly the most disjointed text I have seen published and the author seems to write as if she is submitting an assignment for a writing class. If I was a supporter of Milkweed Editions, I would question this use of my charitable contribution. I don't believe this story is in any way life changing.
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LibraryThing member Maydacat
In this collection of essays, the author connects the world of nature to her own life and that of her family. While I knew something of some of the subjects of her essays, there were several I had never heard of. And though her prose is just this side of poetry and lovely to read, I thought some of
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her connections between the world of nature and her own experiences and her family were a bit of a stretch. And while most of her observations are interesting and thought provoking, I found a few to be off-putting.
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LibraryThing member ecataldi
Lyrical, charming, and unique; this collection of vignettes talk about the author's life through the lens of her favorite animals and plants. From dancing tree frogs to cacti - all vignettes contain fascinating information about a particular natural wonder and somehow tie into the author's life -
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whether it be a flashback to childhood, an observation, or an emotion. Accompanying many of the stories are gorgeous illustrations which help readers visualize the often exotic and unique natural wonders in question. Many of the vignettes bring up sexism, racism, motherhood, and other tough topics; but does so in a approachable, unique way that invites discussion. A wonderful book to read and discuss with others.
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LibraryThing member norabelle414
The author is a poet and the book is a prose memoir, which is fine but I find its connection to the animals and plants it talks about tenuous, at best. Gorgeous illustrations though.

Good, but not what I was expecting.
The format of it is kind of:
- Some facts about an organism (e.g. Axolotls are
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- Here's a story about my childhood,
- Vague callback to the organism (e.g. In that story I was blind just like an axolotl),
- Repeat

All the connections to plants and animals are very metaphorical, which makes sense for a poet.
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LibraryThing member steve02476
I -wanted- to like this book, but mostly it didn’t appeal to me. Short essays, pretty much each a combination of memoir and some natural history about some particular creature or plant, and what it meant to her or how it symbolized some part of her life story. If it hadn’t been such a short
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book I doubt I would have finished it.
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LibraryThing member greeniezona
Someone on Instagram (@angiesreading) recede this book, talking about "something that would bring me comfort and peace and remind me that there is still some sense of good in the world" and I was SOLD. Not long later I had to special order a book for my buddy read with my dad anyway, so I added
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this to the order.

I chose this for our family bedtime story because I knew we could all use a bit of wonder and had a shared appreciation for strange creatures. Of course, these essays aren't only about animals, they are also about race and immigration and awkwardness and consent as well -- but none at a level that would be inappropriate for our family (our youngest was ten at the time). Plus parts of this book take place in Kansas, where I grew up, so there were unexpected resonances there.

The illustrations are lovely and charming, and the essays are all about finding connection and inspiration in nature, something that is a good reminder when so many of us feel stuck at home all the time these days.

This book kind of blew up in popularity, and I find that inspirational and hopeful as well.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

184 p.; 8.6 inches


1571313656 / 9781571313652
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