One book shows the edge habitat between a brown author growing up and the natural world that inspires her. The other is about four friends, so different from one another, who puzzle through who they are, what they mean to each other, and to the world.
World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil is a collection of short non-fiction essays illustrated with detailed drawings, by Fumi Mini Nakamura, of quirky organisms. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is a brief graphic novel written and illustrated in breezy pen and ink. Neither was written specifically for YA or MG readers – yet both carry messages of hope that are eminently needed by kids right now.
In World of Wonders, the smile of an axolotl – a Mexican amphibian rare in nature due to habitat loss – reminds the author of her young self, yearning to try lipstick. She craved a beautiful red, but her white friend insisted that red would not coordinate well with her brown skin. Nezhukumatathil thinks “The best thing to do in that moment is to just smile and smile, even if your smile is thin. The tighter your smile, the tougher you become.” Her brown skin blended from her Filipina mother and South Indian father and the conflicts it causes is a theme throughout the book from her childhood to adult life.
“A poet celebrates the wonders of nature in a collection of essays that could almost serve as a coming-of-age memoir.”Kirkus
Likewise, with each of many intriguing organisms, teen readers will see connections to her understanding of the world. Science and bizarre traits give these species notable cache. My husband’s comment upon seeing Nakamura’s drawing of the axolotl was “it doesn’t really look like that right?” A teen reader would look it up, and yes, it does. All ribbon eels are born male, then at mating time some change color, become females, and shortly after laying eggs, they die. Their mouths are characteristically open, seeming in amazement of the world around them, which the author connects to her young son’s similarly habitual expression. Young adults will be fascinated by the delicate comb jellies, bizarre Potoo bird, vampire squid, corpse flower, and the deadly cassowary.
Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s strategy is to use poetic language, personal anecdotes and startling facts to encourage connections between each of us and the natural world. That raises hope that we can be good stewards of this earth.
“The boy is lonely when the mole first surfaces. They spend time together gazing into the wild. I think the wild is a bit like life – frightening sometimes but beautiful.”From the introduction to The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
The boy is pleased to have a mole friend. The mole is delighted by cake. When they happen upon a fox trapped in a snare drama happens. A wise choice is made which later will give rise to a different wise choice. Soon enough the boy, the mole, and the fox encounter a large horse. The horse is gentle and strong and says things like “Don’t measure how valuable you are by the way you are treated.” And eventually the horse reveals a special talent. All four are trying to find home. They have a long way to go, but have come so far. They feel loved.
Intended for ages eight to eighty, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse may be most suited to middle grade readers, those who understand much of the world, yet not nearly enough.
World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments
Aimee Nezhukumatathil, illustrated by Fumi Mini Nakamura
2020 Milkweed Editions, Minneapolis, MN – a non-profit publisher committed to ecological stewardship https://milkweed.org/
Publish Date: 09/08/2020
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
ISBN-10 : 0062976583
ISBN-13 : 978-0062976581
Publication date: 10/22/2019