Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans

Written by: Phil Bildner

Illustrated by: John Parra

For Ages: 5-10 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: POC-Centric Narratives, Hurricane Katrina, American Folktales, Community Involvement, Activism, Social-Emotional Growth.

Summary: This book is in American Folktale style, making Cornelius larger than life!  Marvelous Cornelius is based on an actual man who lived in New Orleans and was a sanitation worker.  Cornelius was known for doing fancy tricks while picking up the trash, and being a friendly face around the neighborhood.  When Hurricane Katrina strikes, he sees the destruction that the storm has wrought and is disheartened.  Instead of waiting for reinforcements, Cornelius takes it upon himself to begin the cleanup of his beloved neighborhood and city.  Soon, others begin to help and the community comes together along with volunteers to bring New Orleans streets a little bit closer to what they had been in the past, before Katrina.

Marvelous Cornelius does a great job of highlighting the importance of community involvement while also teaching young children about the storm.  It is perfect for young audiences and focuses on teamwork instead of personal hardship.  While it is important for more details about the storm to be shared, this introduces it in a way that won’t scare younger readers and listeners.  Having a protagonist that is warm and kind, especially a black man, is crucial for representation!  While this story does embellish Marvelous Cornelius from the actual person, there is an extensive Author’s Note in the back that talks more in-depth about Hurricane Katrina, Cornelius, and the community efforts that helped rebuild New Orleans.

Reflection Questions:

  • Why do you think it was important for Cornelius to help clean up his community instead of waiting for someone else to do it?
  • How would you feel if something you started doing impacted those around you, and made them start to help as well?
  • What about your community is important to you?
  • How can you make your community better?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Do you live in a place where there are hurricanes?  How about tornados or earthquakes?  There are all sorts of large weather events that happen all over the world.  Learn more about them, and try to make a tornado in a bottle!
  • Contact a meteorologist and learn about how their jobs are impacted by the weather.  Take a field trip to a news station nearby and see where they do their work everyday.  Are there more people than just the meteorologist doing work about the weather?
  • Investigate more about what people need after a large weather event that might flood their homes or break things (like during an earthquake).  What sort of community support systems are available, and what do they need in terms of donations?  Is there anyway for your class or school to help them?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

Phil-Ups.jpgPhil Bildner grew up in Jericho, New York, a Long Island suburb of New York City.  Phil went to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland and got his undergraduate degree in political science (B.A. ’90). Then he went to law school at New York University School of Law (J.D. ’93). Phil passed the bar exam in both New York and New Jersey and got a job as an associate at a large Manhattan law firm.

Quickly he realized that being a lawyer wasn’t for him, and instead went back to school and got a master’s degree in early childhood and elementary education!  Phil taught for 11 years before leaving to write full-time, though he never stopped working with kids. He began chaperoning student-volunteer trips to New Orleans to help in the post-Hurricane Katrina recovery effort. Phil founded The NOLA Tree, a non-profit youth service organization and served as the Executive Director. They worked with other non-profit and service organizations on community building and development projects. He also launched The Author Village and works with other creative professionals.  Phil is still writing and visiting schools all over the world!

JohnParraPortrait2010John Parra is the illustrator of numerous books for children including the Pura Belpré Honor winning Frida Khalo and Her Animalitos, the Pura Belpré Honor and SCBWI Golden Kite Award winning Gracias/Thanks, the Pura Belpré Honor award-winning Green Is a Chile Pepper, and the SCBWI Golden Kite Award winning Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans. John is also the illustrator of the Christopher Award-winning Waiting for the Biblioburro, and the 2018 picture book is Hey, Wall.

As a boy growing up in Santa Barbara, California, John always loved to draw — robots, creatures, cities, his family, and of course, his Hispanic roots and heritage influenced his creations. But it wasn’t until a conversation with visiting artist, Salomón Huerta, during John’s final year at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena that his art style came into focus. John discovered he could infuse his culture and personality into his work, and ever since, he hasn’t stopped.

John has taught art at the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard, CA, and in 2015 he shared his creations at a special event and workshop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. John’s work can now also be seen on a series of six USPS Forever Stamps titled Delicioso, which celebrates Latino food cuisine.

John loves planting Easter Eggs – funny, personal, or symbolic references. For instance, in all of his books, John always includes a self-portrait of himself as a child. But don’t ask him to help you find these hidden gems, he won’t give them away!

John lives in Queens New York with his wife Maria, and like always, he continues to work in his studio, passionately creating art.

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