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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans. Written by Phil Bildner and illustrated by John Parra. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2015. $22.50 ages 4 and up

"Marvelous Cornelius!" they cheered. "Marvelous Cornelius!" At each home, Cornelius sashayed to the curb and shimmied to the hopper. Unloading the garbage, not a single praline wrapper ever stayed on the streets. And those spotless streets,  oh, how they sparkled."

Cornelius Washington loves his job, and he shows it. He is proud to clean the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans. He does it with panache and a quality for life that entertains those who watch him at his job. He takes Martin Luther King's advice to heart, in the most generous way:

"Even if it's called your lot to be a
street sweeper, go out and sweep
streets like Michelangelo painted
pictures, sweep streets like Handel
and Beethoven composed music,
sweep streets like Shakespeare
wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well
that all the hosts of heaven and
earth will have to pause and say,
"Here lived a great street sweeper
who swept his job well."

Then, Hurricane Katrina changes the landscape for Cornelius and the people of New Orleans.
In her wake, she leaves mountains of trash, death and destruction that is hard to fathom. Cornelius is sad, but resolute. He will work with the people he knows, and those who come to help, to the best of his ability to bring joy to his beloved city. Cornelius inspires others with his drive and dedication, and his need to bring back the 'sparkle' that is missing since the storm.

Based on a true story of a man who did his part and loved his job, Phil Bildner presents an unsung hero whose story deserves to be told. In an author's note, he shares how he came to know about Cornelius and his desire to help tell his story for a wider audience. His work is exemplary and a real tribute to the man. John Parra's painted artwork is textured and focused on the streets of New Orleans, the streets that Cornelius loved. Filled with motion and liveliness, he brings the city to his readers and allows us a look at the spirit that has remained so strong in the aftermath of such devastation.

"As the great city rose again,
Marvelous Cornelius,
he passed on.
But as for his spirit,
that's part of New Orleans,
New Orleans forever after."

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