Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans

Phil Bildner
Illustrator:  John Parra 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Chronicle Books, 2015   ISBN: 978-1452125787

Marvelous Cornelius worked in the French Quarter in New Orleans and everyone there knew and liked him. Diligently, and with a smile on his face, Cornelius collected the trash, and he always took pride in his work, never leaving a scrap of paper on the street. Cornelius also made his work fun, calling out to his driver, throwing the bags into the back of the truck with a flip and a toss. He would clap the lids of trash cans “like cymbals,” and “twirled the tins like tops.” Cornelius danced as he worked and people would dance along with him, caught up by his sheer love of life.

Then, one day, a great storm struck New Orleans. The water rose so high that people, pets, vehicles and even whole buildings washed away. For days and days there was “water, water, everywhere. A gumbo of mush and mud.” When the water finally receded, a horrible mess of mud and trash was left behind and poor Cornelius wept when he saw it all. It would take millions of Cornelius’ to clean up the mess. Cornelius then dried his eyes and got to work. He collected the trash as usual and now he had help. Children and adults who knew Cornelius “pitched in, too.” They were joined by people from all over the country to came to help New Orleans clean up.

This empowering and thoughtful book explores the way in which Cornelius Washington, who was a real sanitation worker in New Orleans for many years, took pride in the work that he did. He was well known and well-liked by the people he met, and in many ways he symbolized “the energy, the spirit, the magic, the people” of New Orleans. Through the story of a real man, the author and illustrator of this slightly-tall-but-based-on-a-real-story tale celebrate the spirit of a people who would not let a disaster bring them down.