Books

Aimee Nezhukumatathil Wants You to Get Some Fresh Air

WONDER WOMAN It’s not every day that pets come up during a phone interview, but the subject is relevant when you’re talking to Aimee Nezhukumatathil, whose illustrated essay collection, “World of Wonders,” doubles as a love letter to little creatures. It turns out she shares her home with a small, mostly Chihuahua-based mutt named Haiku. “He’s a really teeny dog and I’m a nerdy poet, so there you go,” she explains. “Unfortunately he has a little bit of pandemic weight on him, so now we joke that he’s a haibun, which is a larger form of Japanese poetry.”

“World of Wonders” was published by Milkweed Editions on Sept. 8 and, three months later, was selected as Barnes & Noble’s Book of the Year. On Dec. 16, Nezhukumatathil was helping her fifth grader practice for a spelling bee when she learned that the book was No. 5 on the hardcover nonfiction list. (It is now at No. 7.) She describes the news as “beyond my wildest dreams.”

She doesn’t want to sound “Pollyannaish,” but her goal was to help readers notice and connect with beauty. “I hope once you get to know flowers and plants you may not otherwise have known, it makes you reflect inward,” Nezhukumatathil says. “When you realize wonder is a practice, you feel less alone.”

How does one embark on such a journey? Nezhukumatathil’s instructions are simple enough to spur the most indoorsy couch potato into snow angel position. She says, “Try to go back and remember that kid you were, filling your pockets with a rock shaped like Florida or a leaf that reminded you of something funny. Be the person who says ‘Look, look, look’ and ‘Why, why, why.’ What are you curious about that makes you smile and want to learn about this planet again? You don’t need to have giant acreage; you can step outside and see how frost is forming on the grass. It’s just a reset, like there’s a knob at the back of your head that’s tilted toward jadedness. Turn it back to wonder.”

Nezhukumatathil’s musings on peacocks, narwhals “and other astonishments” are illuminated by Fumi Nakamura, whose drawings she describes as “99 percent biologically accurate, 1 percent whimsy.” Nezhukumatathil says, “I was adamant about having an Asian-American illustrator. I wanted my author photo to be in color so people can see my brown skin. I wanted these names that are not normally associated with nature writing. I think we’ve shown that our country is ready for a different view of the outdoors.”

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