“Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses: How James Kelly’s Nose Saved the New York City Subway

SK p3James “Smelly” Kelly used his super-senses and intelligence to make sure that the New York City subway in the 1930s ran safely throughout his lifetime and beyond.

James Kelly smelled EVERYTHING: rats in the shed; circus elephants a mile away; tomorrow’s rain. His sense of smell was EXTRAORDINARY. But what good was a powerful nose? How could his super-sniffer make him special?

In the New York City subway, James found his calling–and earned the nickname SK p14“Smelly” Kelly. Armed with his super-sniffer and the tools he invented, he tracked down leaks from the dangerous to the disgusting, from the comical to the bizarre. Then, he sprang into action to prevent cave-ins and explosions in the tunnels beneath the city. Smelly Kelly not only hunted leaks but also saved lives—and he discovered the truly extraordinary power inside him.

Beth Anderson’s fast-paced text and Jenn Harney’s comical illustrations bring to life this everyday superhero.

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Anderson casts him in a heroic mold, as he had not only a special ability, but the inner motivation to use it in service to public safety: “With such an honor came great responsibility.” (Shades of Spider-Man.) Depicted with a confident smile and a mop of bright orange hair, Kelly shines as he goes after suggestive twists and curls of miasmic yellowish green in the illustrations’ succession of antique-looking street scenes and cross-sectional views of underground pipes and tunnels… Another immigrant gets the job done. ~Kirkus 

In compelling prose, Anderson relays Kelly’s heroic exploits, including locating leak sources, inventing detection implements, and saving a man from beneath a train (“Inches from the underside of the car. Inches from the electrified third rail”). Harney’s digital illustrations evoke stylized pen and ink; coils of pea green bring noxious scents to life. Kelly’s brightly spotlighted escapades—as well as his distinctive red hair, rendered in a vibrant shade—serve as welcome contrast.  ~Publishers Weekly

Anderson’s zesty stick-to-the-facts narration (only a brief passage about Kelly’s childhood is speculative) in this picture book biography will be a winner in class units on community helpers, and Harney’s digital illustrations, in which the ginger-haired, newsboy-capped Kelly glows with good-natured determination in the shadowy blues of the urban underbelly, crackle with energy.  ~BCCB (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)

The engaging text features dramatic incidents and rescues… Harney’s cartoon-style artwork is perfect for the narrative because it reinforces the idea that Kelly was a little-known superhero… The author’s note, bibliography, and further ­resources section could inspire readers to conduct more ­research. This would be an excellent book for talking about problem-solving and ­engineering. VERDICT Recommended for elementary collections, particularly those that emphasize makerspaces, problem-solving, or STEAM activities.  ~ SLJ

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Hardcover | $18.99
Published by Calkins Creek
Oct 13, 2020 | 40 Pages | 9 x 11 | 7-10 years| ISBN 9781684373994

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