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The Picture Book Buzz

"Smelly" Kelly and His Super Senses - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF and Giveaway

I've been anticipating the release of this book since it was announced. I've loved Beth Anderson's first two books - An Inconvenient Alphabet and Lizzie Demands a Seat. She is a master at finding unusual, little known, fun stories and creating an engaging narrative that draws the reader into the heart of the story.

This book interweaves a little history, humor, and the giant heart of a man who uses his unusual gift to become an everyday superhero in the bowels of the New York City Subway.

"Smelly" Kelly and His Super Senses: How James Kelly's Nose Saved the New York City Subway

Author: Beth Anderson

Illustrator: Jenn Harney

Publisher: Calkins Creek, Boyds Mills Kane (2020)

Ages: 7-10

Historical Fiction


Everyday superhero, sense of smell, humor, and inventions.


James "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 "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.

Opening Lines:

James Kelly Smelled everything.

Rats in the shed.

Circus elephants a mile away.

Tomorrow's rain.

But what good was an extraordinary nose? He'd rather have

amazing strength or astonishing speed. Something that would

make him special.

What I LOVED about this book:

I love Beth gorgeous lyricism throughout the book; it is so fun to read aloud. When Kelly first arrived in the U.S. from Ireland, "the metropolis hummed. Buildings stretched to the sky. Scents familiar and foreign wafted in the breeze."

Text © Beth Anderson, 2020. Image © Jenn Harney, 2020.

Jenn Harney's illustrations are amazing. I love Kelly's bold mop of bright orange-red hair and the curling, yellow trails of wafting scents. And the tiniest of hints in this second spread, of the tonal differences between the tans, yellows, and greys of the city and the deep blue and black of the underground subway; whose "damp air bristled with mystery."

Using his super sniffer, Kelly worked throughout the subway system. Hot on the trail of scents that revealed seeping gas and dripping leaks; earning him the nickname - "Smelly" Kelly. Becoming "the infamous nose," weigh a bit on Kelly and drove him to read, research, and experiment with substances and machines to help him find the leaks. He also heightened his hearing to help find "rhythmic drips." Beth and Jenn's humor blended beautifully. For instance, when Kelly is "capturing a clog," the illustration shows Kelly struggling to pull an eel from a sink!

Beth skillfully weaves the motif of Kelly as a superhero throughout the story. And like any superhero, Kelly needed an assistant; especially, with 247 miles of track to patrol. When Kelly and his sidekick are called to fix "the most colossal, most nauseating, most nose-scrunching stench," the lyrical text and humorous illustrations bring together Kelly's super nose, inventions, the wonderfully creative dual color palette, and the humorous shapes of wafting elephant poo. Even pre-readers will know exactly what is going on.

Text © Beth Anderson, 2020. Image © Jenn Harney, 2020.

As if solving mysteries and averting disasters, wasn't enough, in the heart-pounding ending, Kelly exhibits tremendous courage and makes an important, and perhaps resonating, discovery. Curious? Good, now you'll have to go read the book!

The author's note and information on both "Kelly's Tools" and "The Underground World," combine with "a note about research" and a photograph of James Kelly to highlight what is known and unknown about this ordinary superhero. It also includes a bibliography and further resources. Overall, this is a great book which highlights some of the history of New York and its subway and an unsung hero. A very timely book as we witness our own superheroes pulling us through this trying time.


- try some "scent" games, like Smell Matcher Memory or the Blind Taste Test, (

- if you could have a super sense or ability, what would it be? Write a story, or draw an image, about you and your super quality.

If you missed the interview on Monday with Beth Anderson, check it out (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

One lucky reader will win a copy of "Smelly" Kelly and His Super Senses.

- Simply comment below or on Monday's Interview post (or both), to be entered in the random drawing for a copy of "Smelly" Kelly.

- Be sure to say where you shared the post, and I'll add additional entries for you.

- Sorry, US Residents only.

Thursday, October 22 | 4:00 pm - 4:45 pm Free Online Program

Discover the incredible story of Irish immigrant James Kelly as told by children’s author Beth Anderson in her new book “Smelly” Kelly and his Super Senses, and costumed interpreter Joe Hartman, who will offer a first-person glimpse into Kelly’s life and times.  “Smelly” Kelly earned his nickname by using his keen olfactory sense to help sniff out leaks and other potential dangers in New York City’s subway system.  Over the course of his career, it’s estimated that Kelly traveled almost 100,000 miles of track on foot and trained 60 assistants.  Join us to learn more about this hardworking, unusually talented and undersung hero of the New York City Subway! REGISTER > Free online program.  Recommended for ages 5-12. Find out more »


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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