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Meet Tom Longboat

by Elizabeth MacLeod; Mike Deas (ill.)


Scholastic Canadas biography series – picture books that profile trailblazing Canadians, including Viola Desmond and Chris Hadfield – stands out in the field of non-fiction kidlit biographies thanks to its appealing, comic-strip style.

The latest entry, Meet Tom Longboat, is a solid, accessible introduction to the world-class Onondaga distance runner from Six Nations. Longboat’s achievements, both on and off the track, are explored, as is the racism he faced throughout his life. Prolific Toronto author Elizabeth MacLeod has an indisputable flair for storytelling, and biographical details are relayed in a readable and relatable manner. As a child, “Tom had many chores to do, but he still made time for fun. He liked to chase after the cows.” He also escaped abuses at residential school by literally running away.

Well-paced passages recount Longboat’s legendary feats of endurance and courage. In the 1907 Boston Marathon, he beat a train that was about to cross the course in order to keep his lead and then pulled away from the pack while running uphill in a snowstorm to win. Longboat voluntarily enlisted in the First World War, giving up “all the fame and prize money.” As a soldier, he carried messages from one battlefield to another, “racing over the rough, muddy ground,” and suffered injuries so severe that he was erroneously “declared dead.”

Mike Deas’s energetic, colourful illustrations are packed with early 20th-century details, including bespoke period fashions, and panoramic views of streets lined with marathon spectators. Speech bubbles extend the text and capture fickle public attitudes, from the congratulatory cheers of “You’re top dog, Tom!” at the height of his celebrity, to gossipy sneers when Longboat retired from racing and found a job as a street cleaner in Depression-era Toronto. Longboat’s honest assuredness and resolve remained undeterred: “What a sky! I love working outdoors.”

Archival photographs are included in endnotes, along with a timeline spanning from Longboat’s birth in 1887 to the 2016 Boston Marathon, which officially recognized First Nations athletes for their contributions to long-distance running.