Written by: Phil Bildner
Illustrated by: John Parra
Publisher: Chronicle Books (August 4, 2015)
Suitable for ages: 5-8
Themes/Topics: Hurricane Katrina, spirit of New Orleans, empathy, community, resilience, courage, recovery, pride, joie de vivre
Brief Synopsis: This story is based on the life of a friendly, hardworking, energetic, fun loving man named Cornelius Washington, a trash collector in the French Quarter. He did his job well taking pride in keeping the streets clean. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans the trash pickup became a monumental task. But that didn’t stop Cornelius because he was a monumental man. Everyone he greeted on his morning route pitched in, and people came from all over the United States to help.
“Cornelius rose. He dried his eyes. For his spirit and will were waterproof.”
Opening pages: “In the Quarter; there worked a man known in New Orleans as Marvelous Cornelius.”
“Mornin’.” He saluted the sliver-haired man with the Times-Picayune tucked under his arm.
“Greetings.” He waved to the couple with the baby on the balcony.
“Ma’am.” He nodded to the woman shanking rugs out at her front window.”
Why I like this book: Phil Bildner creates a tall tale depicting the life of Cornelius Washington into a modern American folk hero. The art of John Parra is authentic; filled with humanity and emotion. Neither the story nor the art shy away from the pain suffered as a result of the storm. Yet it brilliantly captures that joie de vivre of the people and New Orleans culture. It saddens me to know that Cornelius Washington died at age 48, a few years after the storm, and before the story was written. Many of us who are native New Orleanians have untold stories that include our own personal heroes during that difficult time who showed unbridled courage. And there were those from afar who came to help that showed tremendous kindness. Thanks to Phil Bildner and John Parra we are reminded that they too are Marvelous Cornelius.
Click here to read an interview with the author Phil Bildner and learn about Cornelius Washington
Click here to read the Time-Picayune story about Cornelius Washington by Katy Reckdahl.
Click here to hear Cornelius Washington.
Click here to see the book.
Click here for the teacher’s guide.
Click here for Facts for Kids.
Click here for Education World lessons on hurricanes.
Click here for more about hurricanes from Science for Kids.