In 2016, I set a goal to read more diversely both to myself and aloud to my kids. As this year has unfolded, celebrating our differences has become more important than ever. 2016 has brought unspeakable tragedies born out of hate and ignorance – and the best way I know to fight those evils is to read books celebrating love and diversity. This month’s diverse kidlit choice is Marvelous Cornelius, by Phil Bildner.
Marvelous Cornelius is the story of a real man – a street sweeper who was beloved in his New Orleans neighborhoods, who poured his heart into cleaning up the city after Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005.
The book begins with a beautiful and apt quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr – “…go out and sweep streets like Michaelangelo painted pictures…”
Cornelius and his truck are familiar sights around New Orleans. Each morning, he makes his rounds and collects the trash, leaving the streets sparkling.
And he does his job with such infectious joy that all the neighbors in the city can’t help but feel happy when they see him coming.
But then, one day – the storm comes.
After the storm, even Cornelius finds it hard to smile. He weeps for the devastation of his beloved city.
But Cornelius doesn’t weep for long before he’s back on his feet and ready to tend to his New Orleans streets again. “For his spirit and will were waterproof.”
Cornelius inspires his neighbors to pitch in and clean up the city, and soon everyone is lending a hand.
Marvelous Cornelius is a testament to the will of a city to rise again, shown through the lens of one magnificent character – and the best part is, it’s based on a true story. Cornelius was a real man and a real inspiration (although, sadly, he passed away shortly after the hurricane and only saw the beginnings of the recovery effort).
It’s kind of a strange feeling to read books acquainting my kids with real events that I remember. To them, this is history, but to me, these were current events at one time. I did not experience Hurricane Katrina myself, but I remember watching the news coverage with horror, and I remember the group of Tulane Law students that my law school in Washington, D.C. took in for the semester.
In any event, aside from feeling old, I love reading Marvelous Cornelius to Peanut. (Not so much Nugget – he’s a page-grabber.) Together we point out the neighbors as they clean up and look for Cornelius’s truck as it rolls down the New Orleans streets. For now, she loves the colors and the exuberant illustrations, and she likes to shout “Hootie hootie hoooooo!” along with me – but she’s also learning lessons about being a good neighbor, caring for your neighborhood, and coming together to help others. Marvelous Cornelius seems like he was a true inspiration, and I’m so glad that we all get to know his story now.
What diverse books are you reading this month?