Review: Marvelous Cornelius by Phil Bildner

Marvelous Cornelius by Phil Bildner

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Parra

Cornelius worked in the French Quarter of New Orleans. He was a garbage man who loved his job. He greeted everyone in the neighborhoods and made sure that the streets were clean of even a single wrapper. He had amazing calls he used with his driver, shouting “Woo! Woo!” when it was time to stop and “Rat-a-tat-tat!” when it was time to drive on. He didn’t just carry bags from the curve, he tossed and juggled them, adding dance steps to his routine job. He could launch bags through the air one after another and they landed in a perfect pyramid on the truck. But then Hurricane Katrina came to New Orleans and the city streets filled with mud and muck and piles of garbage. At first Cornelius was overwhelmed by the work to be done, but he started the same way he did every day and soon others started helping too.

This picture book is based on the true story of Cornelius Washington who was a sanitation worker in New Orleans. The Author’s Note speaks to his connection with Cornelius’ family and a reporter who had gotten to know him before the storm. In this book, Cornelius’ story is told in folklore style, offering him and his amazing spirit that he displayed every day a space to be honored and appreciated.

Parra’s illustrations play to the heroic feeling of the book, Often showing Cornelius with stars behind his head or rays of the sun. The painted illustrations have a gorgeous roughness to them in texture that also connects the subject to history and makes the entire book feel timeless and sturdy.

An homage to a man who did a humble job with style and energy, this book is also about survival and what it takes to be an everyday hero. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.