Marvelous Cornelius by Phil Bildner


Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans

Written by Phil Bildner, Illustrated by John Parra

(2015) San Francisco, CA

Chronicle Books LLC

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans is about a garbage man named Cornelius from New Orleans.  Every day, Cornelius cleans up the town, making friends with the people he sees and filling the air with his songs and music while dancing along the streets.  When Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans, all of this stops. The city is flooded, and a HUGE mess is left behind. Cornelius is first discouraged, but soon realizes that with the help of his friends and some friendly visitors willing to provide assistance, they can restore New Orleans to the wonderful city that once was, and is today!

Parent’s Choice Award Winner 2015

Phrases to describe this book: great mix of fact and fiction, colorful, inspiring, Parent’s Choice

Lexile Measure: AD560L

ATOS Book Level: 4.0

Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.

Suggested Delivery: Read Aloud

Reading Activities:

Before Reading: Ask students what, if anything, they know about Hurricane Katrina. Create a KWL chart on the whiteboard and have students use sticky notes to fill out the chart.  Refer back to this chart after reading to discuss what students have learned.  After completing the chart, check out some of the videos listed in the “Additional Resources” section to help build schema before reading.

During Reading: Use the think aloud method in groups during the reading. This method will allow students to monitor their own comprehension of what is being read in the story.

After Reading: Use the Question-Answer Relationship method after you complete the read-aloud. Questions could include “Right-There” questions such as: Who was the main character? Think and Search questions could include: How did Cornelius react when he saw the mess left by Hurricane Katrina? etc.

Writing Activity: The real-life Cornelius of New Orleans died shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit, as noted in the ‘Author’s Notes’ section at the end of the book.  Pretend to write a short obituary for Cornelius, and include his character traits, important details about him, and his accomplishments based on what you have read in the story. How did he change New Orleans?

Additional Resources:

This teaching guide from Chronicle Books provides discussion questions, extension activities, and information about the author and illustrator.

Phil Bildner’s website includes information about Marvelous Cornelius, his other books, a blog section, a biography, as well as videos (including one entitled “Out of My Mind: Book Talking Marvelous Cornelius) in which he talks about the real stories behind his books, as well as his reasons for writing.  This will help students to better understand the author’s motivation for writing the book they are reading!

This Scholastic Kids magazine article gives information about Hurricane Katrina, which will help build schema for students to refer back to while reading this book.

This National Geographic Video shows a day-by-day account of the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Students will be able to see the real-life consequences of the storm to build schema.

Key Vocabulary:

Beignet- a square deep-fried pastry served hot and sprinkled with icing sugar.

Gumbo- a stew or thick soup, usually made with chicken or seafood, greens, and okra.

Hopper- any of various other containers for the temporary storage of material, in this case, a garbage truck to hold trash.

Humanity- the quality of being humane; kindness; benevolence.

Praline- a cookie-size confection made especially of butter, brown sugar, and pecans: developed in New Orleans in the early 19th century.

Sashay- to glide, move, or proceed easily or nonchalantly.

Steeple- a tall ornamental tower that forms the superstructure of a church.

(All definitions obtained/modified from and


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