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

Beth Anderson, illus. by Jenn Harney. Calkins Creek, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-68437-399-4
This picture book biography highlights a little-known figure: James “Smelly” Kelly, an Irish immigrant whose excellent sense of smell helped ensure the safety of the New York City subway system in the mid-20th century. 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. Though some details are hazy, this is an interesting profile of an underappreciated figure. Back matter includes an author’s note, a bibliography, and additional resources. Ages 7–10. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 09/10/2020
Release date: 10/13/2020
Genre: Children's
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