James “Smelly” Kelly, Everyday Hero

My two 2020 picture books are both set in New York City, both feature transportation, and both highlight heroes. But the stories are very different.

Lizzie Demands a Seat, released in January, is the story of how Elizabeth Jennings won the first courtroom victory against segregation on transportation in 1855. She was bold and brave, full of grit and grace in her battle against systemic racism. She carried forward the fight of her ancestors and handed it to those who followed after her. Her story has been hiding in the silences of history too long, This heroine will finally be honored with a statue in 2021.


My fall release, “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses (illustrated by the amazing Jenn Harney!) is about an everyday hero. A person who does his job above and beyond expectations, often unnoticed, to serve the public good. Born with an extraordinary sense of smell, James Kelly found his calling in the New York City subway. With an ever expanding metropolis, the underground world became laced with tunnels for speeding trains to transport the growing population. Steam lines, water pipes, sewer mains, electrical conduit, and natural gas lines crisscrossed under the streets. Gasoline tanks, oil tanks, and foundations were buried beneath the surface. Seeping water could cause cave ins, and leaks and vapors from gasoline and oil could explode. James Kelly, with a nose for leaks, arrived just in time.

Photo courtesy New York Transit Museum

He may never be a household name or have a statue erected to him, but New York City can be thankful the Irish immigrant found a home there and the perfect place to use his extraordinary senses. I’ll be sharing more about James Kelly as the release date nears—including the laugh-out-loud scene that didn’t make it into the book. Besides danger, there are some surprising things to be found in the subway system!

While James Kelly should be celebrated anytime, his story is especially relevant today. Immersed in this pandemic, we now appreciate our everyday heroes more than ever. When it comes right down to it, heroism isn’t about super powers—it’s about heart, caring, and dedication to the greater good.

I’d like to thank EverydayHeroes over the next week on social media. I hope you’ll join me and share your appreciation for your everyday heroes in comments on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and here on my blog.

Use the hashtag #SmellyKellySuperSenses and I’ll enter you into a *GIVEAWAY for a copy of the book! Please tag your heroes in your shout out and share the love! (We have lots of everyday heroes so feel free to enter multiple times!)

For more about “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses, click HERE.
To view the BOOK TRAILER (narrated by the fabulous Books Brothers), click HERE.

“Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses is available for pre-order. Please support indie bookstores and keep them alive! Contact Old Firehouse Books for signed copies with swag.

*Giveaway limited to continental US addresses. Winner will be announced 7/17/20.


13 thoughts on “James “Smelly” Kelly, Everyday Hero

  1. Hi Beth,
    Jimmy Kelly was my grandfather. My mother is his only child. Our family is thrilled to hear of your book. I think many of his 6 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren will be purchasing copies. There was a book entitled The World Beneath The City that featured his story. Those of us who have his sense of smell refer to it as “the Kelly nose”

    Liked by 1 person

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