Wednesday, January 27, 2016


     I took a road trip recently to the wonderful Richland County Library in Columbia, SC. As usual, when I walked in the door a librarian came to me to see how she could help. I handed her a list of about 30 recommended picture book titles I hoped to read. Soon she came over with a stack a mile high, and I dug in. One that stood out to me was Marvelous Cornelius by Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Parra.


     I decided to take it apart to find out what drew me to it. It won several awards, including a Gold in the Parents' Choice Award for Picture Books, and a Junior Library Guild starred review. With some question as to its being classified as fiction or nonfiction, the author's note at the end helps clear that up. It is a fictionalized account of a real resident who lived through Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

     The book begins with a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr., which sets the tone of the book--that no job is inconsequential. Here are some writing tools he used within the story:


     The language used is folksy and full of alliteration, as in

   ...couple with the baby on the balcony
   ...truck rounded the turn crowding the corner
   ...whistled and whirled, hooted and hollered


                "Woo! Woo! Wooooo!" "Woo! Woo! Woooo!"
                   (His call when it was time to stop the truck)

                            "Rat-a-tat-tat!"  "Rat-a-tat-tat!"
              (He strums the side of the truck when time to go)

                           "Hootie Hoo!"  "Hootie Hooo!"
                                   (His very favorite call)

                     HIS WORDS DANCE ON THE PAGE

               Cornelius front flipped to the curb
                                  and flung the bags over his head
                                           behind his back
                                                between his legs
                                                     into the truck.


     ... They (the bags) landed in a perfect pyramid inside the hopper's metal mouth.
     ... He clapped the covers like cymbals and twirled the tins like tops.

                                SIGNALING A CHANGE

                              But then one day, the storm came.                 
                                The great city filled with water.

                     ENDING TIES BACK TO BEGINNING

      On page 4, Cornelius speaks to "the silver-haired man with the paper, the couple with the baby on the balcony, and the woman shaking rugs out at her front window."
     At the end, we see those same people as they pitch in to help after Katrina.


     Sadly, Cornelius passed on as the city was being rebuilt, but his spirit remains a forever part of New Orleans.

     The art by John Parra is a perfect match for the text in this tale of a folk hero with energy, spirit, magnetism and maybe a little bit of magic thrown in for good measure. I hope to post an interview with the artist in the future. Stay tuned!


  1. Looks like a book full of author's tools and one I need to check out soon, Sherri. Thank you for the deconstruction!

  2. Love this. Sherri, do you happen to know the word count in this? I assume it is NF, so it's longer, correct? Need to get this one! Great post!

  3. Ellen, it's 1230, and It's shelved as nonfiction, I think.

  4. At the front of the book under publishing info it says fiction.

  5. Great post! Loved having you point out the tools the author used when writing this book. How often we read through a PB without thinking about how each sentence adds to the story. I'll be reading slower. :-)

  6. Thanks, Mary. I hope this has been helpful. It shows me how I can ratchet up my manuscript

  7. Great deconstruction, Sherri. It helps so much to recognize the small parts that add up to the whole amazing book. Thanks!

  8. One of my favorite books! Of course I am partial to the topic since I am from New Orleans but it is wonderfully written and illustrated.

  9. Any book that leads with a quotation from Dr. MLK,Jr. has me at the start. It sounds lyrical. And New Orleans deserves all the positive attention it can get.
    Sherri, appreciations for this post & do you mind sharing the publisher/imprint info? I applaud the editor for the 1,230 words. My similar new story- from- history manuscript (unsold) is 1,130. Makes me feel better.

  10. It sounds great! :D