January 11, 2019

Meet Tom Longboat (Scholastic Canada Biography)

Written by Elizabeth MacLeod
Illustrated by Mike Deas
Scholastic Canada
32 pp.
Ages 6-10
January 2019

Tom Longboat will always be known as a world-famous runner, winner of the Boston Marathon in 1907 and Olympian in 1908 but his story is more of endurance and determination than just achievement.

Even from his humble beginnings, born in 1866 in Ohsweken on the Six Nations Reserve, Tom Longboat was a child who liked to have fun chasing cows and running around the reserve with his cousin. Even with the death of his father when Tom was just five years old, after which the family became very poor, Tom was often seen running. When placed in a residential school at age twelve, Tom ran away several times, finally hiding out at his uncle's home and never returning.
From Meet Tom Longboat by Elizabeth MacLeod, illus. by Mike Deas
It wasn't until his first race in 1905 that Tom realized how much he wanted to win and the need to strategize to ensure a win. In his 1906 Around the Bay Road Race in Hamilton, Ontario, he surprised all by winning in record time. His unorthodox running training, which included lacrosse and walking stints, along with his unusual stride of keeping his feet close to the ground flummoxed observers and other competitors but seemed to work for Tom Longboat, especially at the 1907 Boston Marathon. At that point he was declared the world's top marathon runner and the toast of Toronto and Canada. Though he did not place in 1908 Olympics, a disastrous event for countless runners who succumbed to the heat wave prevailing in London, Tom continued to run in a series of running matches at Madison Square Gardens, earning himself the title of World Professional Marathon Champion.
From Meet Tom Longboat by Elizabeth MacLeod, illus. by Mike Deas
When World War I hit, Tom enlisted and used his running skills to entertain and courier messages, thankful to return safely to Toronto after the war.  Though he never ran professionally again, choosing to make a home for himself and his family by working as a street cleaner and garbage collector, his legacy upon his death in 1949 was significant.  There was the creation of the Tom Longboat Award for Indigenous athletes, his induction into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, the establishment of the Tom Longboat Run on the Six Nations Reserve and the Tom Longboat Day in Ontario, as well as a striking statue called Challenge and Triumph which features Tom running.

In this latest biography in the new Scholastic Canada Biography series, Elizabeth MacLeod doesn't just shine a light on the achievements of Tom Longboat. She shows his beginnings, his love for running, and the challenges which he experienced throughout his life. From the poverty his family faced upon his father's death, to the torment of the residential school system and the discrimination faced there and elsewhere, as well as surviving World War I, Tom Longboat persisted, achieving greatness. Mike Deas's cartoon illustrations, with speech bubbles to maintain the message of Elizabeth MacLeod's text, never makes the story silly or irreverent, as comics may do. His work is reflective of Tom Longboat's varied experiences as seen from Tom's perspective as well as those around him. The illustrations elevate the text to make Tom Longboat's reality accessible.

Elizabeth MacLeod and Mike Deas ensure that we meet the real Tom Longboat, a boy who ran, and a man who won, both races and at life, and who, beyond obstacles placed in his way, chose for himself the direction his running and life would take.
From Meet Tom Longboat by Elizabeth MacLeod, illus. by Mike Deas


  1. This book will be perfect for a little someone who will be turning 9 soon. Thanks for the great review.

  2. Thanks for this wonderful review! I loved writing about Tom and sharing his story with readers. I'm so glad that many people will be re-discovering this incredible Canadian.

  3. I love illustrated biographies and I think this series is wonderful for introducing young readers to extraordinary Canadians. Congratulations on its success!