Marvelous Cornelius


Marvelous Cornelius

Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans

Pub. Date: July 28, 2015
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Format: Hardcover
Age Range: 4-7
ISBN-10: 1452125783
ISBN-13: 9781452125787


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Junior Library Guild



Check out this book trailer created by some incredibly talented 4th graders and their librarian, Angie Arnett, from Swenke Elementary School from Cypress-Fairbanks ISD in Texas.

Awards & Honors:

2018 Louisiana Young Readers Choice Award Nominee, Grades 3-5
2017-18 Georgia Picture Book (K-4) Nominee
2017 Association of Indiana School Library Educators Read Alouds Too-Good-To-Miss
2016 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People (Biography)
2016 Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children’s Literature
2016 International Literacy Association, Teacher’s Choices Reading List
2016 Golden Kite Award Winner, Picture Book Illustration
2016 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, K–2
2016 Bank Street College Center for Children’s Literature, Best Books
2015 Parents’ Choice Book Awards: Picture Books, Gold
2015 Cybils Awards Nomination, Fiction Picture Books
2015 Junior Library Guild Selection

In New Orleans, there lived a man who saw the streets as his calling, and he swept them clean. He danced up one avenue and down another and everyone danced along. The old ladies whistled and whirled. The old men hooted and hollered. The barbers, bead twirlers, and beignet bakers bounded behind that one-man parade. But then came the rising Mississippi and a storm greater than anyone had seen before. In this heartwarming book about a real garbage man, Phil Bildner and John Parra tell the inspiring story of a humble man and the heroic difference he made in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.




Shelf Awareness (Starred Review)

Phil Bildner (Shoeless Joe & Black Betsy) and John Parra (Green Is a Chile Pepper) pay tribute to a real-life hero in this tall tale treatment of a man who came to be known as “a wizard of trash cans” and kept the streets sparkling, come what may.

Bildner uses the structure of a folktale to introduce his protagonist: “In the Quarter,/ there worked a man/ known in New Orleans as Marvelous Cornelius.” Parra depicts the man in the foreground with the iconic wrought iron balconies of the Big Easy as his backdrop. Cornelius greets a silver-haired man, a couple with a baby and a woman shaking rugs. When he calls out “My young’uns!” the children cheer, “Marvelous Cornelius!” Author and artist scrupulously tie each double-page spread to New Orleans (“not a single praline wrapper ever stayed on the streets”). Cornelius transforms the act of loading garbage bags into “showtime,” launching them so “they landed in a perfect pyramid inside the hopper’s metal mouth.” But then Katrina hits, drowning the city in “a gumbo of mush and mud.” Staring at ruins “as high as the steeple atop St. Louis Cathedral,” Cornelius weeps, “It would take thousands of me to clean this.” Now, when Cornelius goes by the young’uns, they pitch in. As do the silver-haired man, the couple with the baby, plus “barbers, bead twirlers, and beignet bakers.”

This inspiring story trumpets the power of one person’s efforts in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds to inspire an entire community. –Jennifer M. Brown, children’s editor, Shelf AwarenessDiscover:

A tall-tale treatment of a real-life hero in the face of Hurricane Katrina.


School Library Journal

A modern-day folktale about Cornelius Washington, a real-life figure who was a dynamic street sweeper in New Orleans. The working man, aka Marvelous Cornelius, can be seen doing fun tricks and flips while sweeping the streets of the Quarter. When Hurricane Katrina hits the city, Cornelius is overwhelmed by the cleanup, but volunteers come from everywhere to help. He soon finds his NOLA spirit and begins cleaning again in the aftermath of the great storm. Parra’s paintings are modern and fresh, with bright colors paired with repetition of phrases and sounds. Children will enjoy both listening to the story read aloud as well as poring over the beautiful pages to learn about a slice of New Orleans history. VERDICT A stirring story of resilience in the face of adversity.–April Sanders, Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL


Kirkus Reviews

An almost-true story of a man who loved his job and did it well. In this colorful mélange of fact and fiction, Bildner tells the tale of Cornelius Washington, a sanitation worker who cleans the streets of the French Quarter of New Orleans and performs his job with flair. Cornelius does flips, lobs bags of trash into his garbage truck as if shooting hoops in the gym, makes trash-can lids into cymbals, and entertains locals while making the streets sparkle. Hurricane Katrina changes all of that, leaving trash, death, and decay in its wake, “a gumbo of mush and mud.” After weeping for his city, Cornelius joins forces with his neighbors and the waves of people who come to New Orleans post-Katrina from all over to help make New Orleans sparkle once again. Parra’s lively, rustic illustrations look textured, as if they were painted on wooden boards—appropriate for a book that depicts only outdoor scenes. Notably, the images of the French Quarter post-Katrina suggest a much more diverse population than those of pre-Katrina New Orleans; perhaps some who came to help stayed. The illustrator fills every page with activity, while the text comments on individual people readers can find if they look. A fine tribute to an unsung African-American hero.