Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Amazing Feats With Feet

There is something indescribably wonderful about running.  It's like flying with your feet.  When your legs and arms are rhythmically moving to a beat with your breathing you have to marvel at the beauty of the human body.

We did not have official sport teams for girls when I was in high school but I loved watching the track meets.  When I was in my early thirties I started racing in earnest in the 5K runs.  I knew if I kept at it I would place in the top three eventually.  When I was fifty-two years old I accomplished this in one of my favorite races, The Dinosaur Dash at Michigan State University.

For those runners attempting and finishing marathons, you have to admire the miracle of running every one of those twenty-six plus miles.  The Wildest Race Ever: The Story Of The 1904 Olympic Marathon (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, March 1, 2016) written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy describes the trials of the runners in this race and for some of the spectators.  It was a crazy day!

 The first Olympic marathon held in America happened on August 31, 1904, in Saint Louis, Missouri.  It was part of the World's Fair exhibition.  At the World's Fair many people experienced their first hot dog, first Dr. Pepper, first ice cream cone, and first Olympics.

Can you imagine what an amazing event this must have been for celebrating firsts?  As a result of torrential rainstorms the route for the marathon had to change.  It was not a change for the best.  Thirty-two runners decided to stick with their plan to race.

We are introduced to ten of those runners; six Americans, one Cuban, one Frenchman, and two South Africans.  As the race proceeded their fates unfolded in unbelievable forms when you think of racing marathons in 2016.  To complicate the entire situation the temperature at three in the afternoon on the day of the race was ninety degrees.

To begin the runners ran around the inside of the stadium five times before continuing down a road outside.  The dust generated by cars and bicycle riders made it difficult for the runners to breathe and see.  After the first mile one runner was violently ill.  There were only two water stations and the water was contaminated.  YIKES!

What was that runner doing hopping into a car?  Carvajal the racer from Cuba chatted with spectators and pilfered fruit more than once.  Oh no!  Something caused Len Tau from South Africa to go off the designated course.  Did he make it back?

Instead of water the English born American racer was given a concoction by his trainers which could have been deadly.  A medical doctor took a wrong turn resulting in an unexpected scenic tour.  At the finish line there were tears, a collapse, a cheater and someone a little too bit refreshed.  It was and is a race to remember.

The passion Meghan McCarthy has for marathons is evident in her dedication and in the care she has given to her research.  Specific facts and actual quotes are part of her narrative causing readers to feel as if they are reading the latest news reports about the events of the day.  As we get farther into the race the things happening border on the incredible.  How did these men manage to live through the day?  As the end gets closer and specific runners are battling for position the pace of the writing matches the excitement.  Sentences are shorter.  Pauses are inserted, questions are asked and the use of the word, meanwhile, is more prevalent.  Here is a sample passage.

Albert Corey and William Garcia were neck and neck.
Although Hicks had been behind, he was catching up!
"The streets were inches deep in dust," Hicks's trainer remarked, "and every time an auto passed it raised enough dust to obscure the vision of the runners and choke them."

As soon as you look at the dust jacket and the matching book case, you know you are holding a Meghan McCarthy gem in your hands.  The eyes on her characters are a signature piece of her artwork.  The facial expressions on her humans and her animals declare their exact moods.

To the left, on the back, is a collage of picture postcards from the World's Fair exhibition and a corresponding map.  McCarthy continues this theme on her opening and closing endpapers using a background in the same shade of blue as found on the jacket and case.  These postcards contain script handwriting with messages to the addressee.

Rendered in acrylics most of her images span two pages with the exception of a few smaller insets on two pages together.  For the most part her perspective is more all-encompassing than close-up giving us the sense of the expanse of this race.  With that being said she does bring us into the scenes of the dust overwhelming the racers, the close encounter for racer Len Tau and the win.

Her color palette is indicative of the time of day, temperature and place.  The clothing, cars and bicycles mirror the historical period.  Regardless of the astonishing events of the day, McCarthy depicts people in such a way as to cheerfully inform her readers.

One of my favorite illustrations is of a group of four runners coming toward the reader.  The road is in the center of two pages with the countryside to the left and the right.  There are fields and trees on either side with a couple of older buildings on the right.  Bystanders are along the road on the left.  Two bicyclists, one a policeman and the other a woman, are following the racers along with a dog.  It is clear that runner Lorden is not going to finish the race.

The Wildest Race Ever: The Story Of The 1904 Olympic Marathon written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy documents in informative, spirited text and pictures the truly astonishing moments of this day.  The perseverance of the finishers is to be commended along with the sheer gumption of many of the spectators.  Meghan McCarthy has a lengthy author's note about the marathon runners, the 1904 World's Fair, the Pike and a select bibliography at the end.  This is the kind of nonfiction readers will read over and over.  History, reality, can really be stranger than fiction.

To learn more about Meghan McCarthy and her other books, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  McCarthy has eight individual pages dedicated to this title.  At the publisher's website you can view seven interior illustrations including one of my favorites.

Please take a few moments to enjoy the titles selected by the other bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge as linked at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.


  1. There aren't so very many picture books about marathons. I am eager to read this one.

    1. Hello Crystal~ I think you and your students are really going to enjoy this one. Because there are several marathon runners in Meghan's family her passion for the sport plus her impeccable research really shines in this book. I can't wait to hear what you think about it.