Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans
Written by Phil Bildner
Illustrated by John Parra
Chronicle Books 8/04/2015
44 pages Age 3—5
“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 bigger than anyone had seen before. Phil Bildner and John Parra tell the inspirational story of a humble man, and the heroic difference he made in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.” [inside jacket]
Marvelous Cornelius, the person, embodies the best of us. Day-to-day he performed his job—one many would consider unglamorous—with dignity, enthusiasm, and a spirit of giving to those he served. People responded positively to this larger-than-life man. Kids enjoyed his spirited antics. When disaster struck in the name of Hurricane Katrina, this French Quarter-New Orléans resident went to work cleaning up his city with the same joyousness as before, only this time, the residents responded not only with enjoyment to see their local “hero,” but pitched in following his lead. Together—including many volunteers from outside of New Orléans—Marvelous Cornelius led his neighbors in cleaning up their beloved city. Just as he did on his daily job, Marvelous Cornelius helped keep New Orléans clean, for he was a garbage man by trade; garbage man extraordinaire.
With the use of many writing techniques—alliteration, repetition, and exaggeration—author Bildner keeps the story lively. Children will enjoy Cornelius Washington’s story of how an ordinary citizen can help keep their city or town upbeat, their neighbors friendly and joyous, and their streets clean, making for a wonderful place to live.
At times, the illustrations portray Marvelous Cornelius as a literal giant emphasizing his larger-than-life persona. He becomes more realistic when portrayed with the residents he served. I would have liked to have seen a more multicultural representation of the residents of New Orléans, though artist Parra may have decided to show a true representation of the resident’s Cornelius Washington actually served. Of note: the illustrations do show a multicultural people once the city is swept clean of the “gumbo of mush and mud.”
The art is a delight with its rustic feel and animations of Cornelius “Tango-ing up Toulouse” and “Samba-ing down St. Peter.” I loved the changing text size and font when Marvelous Cornelius sang out his familiar calls:
“WOO! WOO! WOOOOO! WOO! WOO! WOOOOO!”
“HOOTIE HOO! HOOTIE HOOOOO! SHOWTIME!”
At story’s end, the author writes more about New Orléans, its people, and Hurricane Katrina (which brought major devastation to this coastal city). Bildner also delves into his writing style, saying his use of alliteration, repetition, and exaggeration helped him write Cornelius Washington’s story as a folktale, similar to that of John Henry. Together with artist Parra, Bildner has succeeded in writing a story every child should read and will most definitely enjoy. Teachers can find many lessons in Mr. Washington’s story of an average person who rose to heroic heights simply by doing his best every day.
MARVELOUS CORNELIUS: HURRICANE KATRINA AND THE SPIRIT OF NEW ORLEANS. Text copyright © 2015 by Phil Bildner. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by John Parra. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA.
Meet the author, Phil Bildner, at his website: http://philbildner.com/
Meet the illustrator, John Parra, at his website: http://www.johnparraart.com/
Find more picture books at the Chronicle Books website: http://www.chroniclebooks.com/
Copyright © 2015 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved
Full Disclosure: Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans, by Phil Bildner & John Parra, and received from Chronicle Books, is in exchange NOT for a positive review, but for an HONEST review. The opinions expressed are my own and no one else’s. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”