Book about trash collector is a treasure

When someone helps, cleaning your room isn’t a chore. If you make it a game it’s actually fun. In the new book “Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans” by Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Parra, kids will see how that works.

Everybody knew Cornelius Washington in the French Quarter,.

People looked forward to seeing him on the back of his garbage truck, waving and calling “Mornin’!” to everyone near Jackson Square.

But cleaning up wasn’t all that Cornelius did: on every stop, he “sashayed to the curb and shimmied to the hopper” of the truck. He hollered to the people nearby before yelling “Showtime!” He danced with the garbage bags before he lined them all up and threw them — one, two, three, four — into the back of the truck. Not one stray paper missed his grab.

But early one summer morning, a storm came roaring into New Orleans.

It didn’t take long for the streets to fill with water and for people and cars and rooftops to float up and away. It was “a gumbo of mush and mud” and days later, after the waters left, the Marvelous Cornelius could see that the cleaning job would be too big for him to handle. That made him cry, but “his spirit and will were waterproof.”

What else could he do but get back out to his beloved streets, behind his truck? There was work to be done, with the help of neighbors, new friends, and people who came to help. They had a city to clean!

Chances are, though the child to whom you’ll read this book will hear news stories about the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, he won’t remember it. She might even be too young to understand — which is why you’ll want this wonderful slice-of-life on your shelf.

Based loosely on the real Mr. Washington, “Marvelous Cornelius” is lively and colorful, just like its setting. Bildner’s story is good, made better with Parra’s illustrations; together, they give kids a sense of Big Easy charm in the first half, followed by unmistakable devastation in the latter half. Beware that that could cause a minor scare for sensitive kids, but it’ll also help them understand what happened, and the meaningful afterward.

This is a great book for kids ages 3 to 5, although curious early grade-schoolers might like it, too. “Pick up your toys” may have new meaning after reading “Marvelous Cornelius,” so pick up this book for your family.

“Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans,” by Phil Bildner [44 pages, 2015, $22.50].

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3 years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill with two dogs and 12,000 books.

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