Jul 9, 2020

Nicknamed "Smelly"? Not a Bad Thing!

Calkins Creek, October, 2020
I reviewed a previous nonfiction picture book by Beth Anderson earlier this year. It's a biography set in New York City, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT: Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights. In it, Anderson reveals the story of an historic figure who was new to me (and to many), Elizabeth Jennings. This is a celebration of a black woman with a spine and a voice, always an exciting subject for me to read about. It also reveals historic insights into an earlier era of this metropolis. Those were days when major mass transit was above ground streetcars.

"Smelly" Kelly and His Super Senses: How James Kelly's Nose Saved the New York City Subway  takes place a bit later when the subway system has become the transit hub for the city, its lifeline, but always expanding and under construction. 
Anderson is back with another profile of a New Yorker whose story is not widely known, but deserves to be. Delightfully illustrated by Jenn Harney, this telling reveals a hero in the underworld-- the underground world of subway operation, that is. His super-sniffer detects and locates potential mishaps that could endanger the system, and LIVES! Within the opening pages, readers learn that young-James was aware of but not impressed by his super-sensitive nose-power. In a single page-turn adult-Kelly lands in New York City. He soon begins work in the subway and his talent proves to be priceless. His sniffer not only averted catastrophes from gas leaks and water drips coming in contact with electrical sparks, he tracked down burst plumbing pipes and other odors to reveal unseen damage. 
Kelly took his nickname and unofficial hero status seriously, reading deeply to learn more about ways science and technology could support his role of super-subway-saver. This  complex story is told with pizzazz, making the revelations about a grown man and urban infrastructure remarkably lively and appealing. The color choices, text placement, lighting and movement in illustrations make this an action-packed and fun read. 
Interior illustration, "Smelly" Kelly and His Super Senses
Beth Anderson/Jenn Harney
Kelly's nose and reputation took him far beyond the subway when smell-sleuthing was required. He supplemented his sniffer with his science studies to narrow down destructive leaks, he trained apprentices in his techniques, and he faced every challenge with persistence.  Eventually, he drew on his childhood experiences with elephant odors to solve a mystery. Anderson portrays a climactic and dramatic event in which Kelly's nose and ears were of no use, but put his analytic skills and bravery to work to save a life. 

Anderson participated in In an interview about this new release on Maria Marshall's blog, THE PICTURE BOOK BUILDER, here. Her website and that interview include a quote worthy of note:

"Writing is mining.
It’s digging deep inside
for special memories, emotions, and meaning.
It’s burrowing into history for inspiring characters and moments
that change the course of events."
~ Beth Anderson 

As a reader and writer I admire this mission statement and appreciate the results in her books. Her research is seamlessly woven into lives that leap from the page in settings that have a life of their own. It was my privilege to read an early copy in PDF file, with no promise of a review. Publisher Calkins Creek is a reliable producer of high-quality picture books and I look forward to having physical copies in hand and to give as gifts.
This is not available for distribution until October, but I am posting my review now because you can place advance orders, from an independent bookstore, please. Those early orders can help books and publishers and stores survive, and you won't be charged until the books are ready to go out, in most cases. Find your nearest stores here. You can also request your local library to order it. If you enjoy nonfiction (nearly biographic) picture books, this one is a must-have. 

Brief Notes anchoring this post in current events:
It is oddly comforting that many recommended titles about anti-racism  for adult readingare delayed in delivery because they are sold out and require reprinting. Library copies are on long holds, too. Please be patient, and read deeply when you can. 
Then, let it sink in and ACT.

A helpful comparison for those STILL feeling a gut response to BLACK LIVES MATTER with  "All Lives Matter":
When annual events support BREAST CANCER, is your gut response- 
"But ALL Cancer matters"? 
If not, why is it so hard for you to accept that all lives DO NOT matter when we are living in a society that treats BLACK LIVES and other People of Color with less value and security, or with outright contempt?  If ALL Lives Matter had been true for those who are NOT White, in the present and in history, this conversation wouldn't be necessary.

Covid19 response continues to vary on a national and world scale. Many states  "opened up" while providing little guidance, support, or enforcement of wearing masks, keeping physical distance, and staying home when possible. In those cases, extreme upsurges in positive test results, active cases, hospitalizations, and shortages of ICU beds and other resources are cause for concern. 
This morning our country (USA) continues to "lead the world" in confirmed cases and deaths. Individual states are outpacing entire countries. Shamefully.


  1. Thank you so much for this wonderful post on "Smelly" Kelly and His Super Senses! I'm very excited about sharing this story with kids!

  2. Thanks for reading and popping in, Beth. I appreciate your ability to "dig deep" to find and share his story fully- it will certainly be a hit with readers. I can also see kids who claim "There's nothing to read," or "None of these books look interesting," grabbing for this one, or even waiting on a list to get a turn at it. Brava!

  3. "Pizazz" is a GREAT descriptor for Beth's lively text. Paired perfectly with Jenn's illustrations. Can't wait!

  4. Thanks, Cathy! I rewrote that line several different ways and couldn't seem to capture the lively kid-appeal of every age in this book. I do think it will be spontaneously book-talked among kids, urging others to read it or calling others over to "listen tot this!".


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