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

Calkins Creek. Oct. 2020. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781684373994.
Gr 2-5–This picture book biography centers on James Kelly, a white Irish immigrant and Transit Authority worker born in 1898, who used his incredible sense of smell to solve problems. Kelly could recognize scents that most people ignored. His impressive ability helped him identify leaks that could damage the New York City subway system. Eventually, he implemented tools that supplemented his skills, such as a yellow powder called uranine. This chemical was used to stain water yellow and helped Kelly locate leaks. The engaging text features dramatic incidents and rescues. For example, near the end of the narrative, one scene depicts Kelly saving the life of a man who fell from the platform and onto the tracks. Kelly jumped down, crawled under the subway car, and pinned the man down. The car was able to pass over both men without hurting them. Harney’s cartoon-style artwork is perfect for the narrative because it reinforces the idea that Kelly was a little-known superhero. The illustrations feature a predominately white cast of characters. 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.

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