In time for the 2016 Summer Olympics, McCarthy spotlights the men’s marathon at the first Olympic Games hosted by the United States, held at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

Representing six countries, the race’s 32 starting athletes included 17 Americans. McCarthy focuses on 10 runners, including two South Africans, a Cuban, a Frenchman, and six Americans. The 90-degree heat and scarce water daunted the athletes—several succumbed to cramps and nausea. Attendees in autos and on bicycles created thick dust clouds that impeded the runners’ vision and breathing. Justifying the titular claim, McCarthy recounts events that contrast with the tightly scripted modern Olympics. Len Tau, chased by an angry dog, ran a mile off course—and still finished ninth. Felix Carvajal, the Cuban, stopped to snack and practice his English with bystanders—and cried to learn that he had finished fourth. American Fred Lorz, driven off in an automobile after suffering cramps, mysteriously showed up first at the finish line—but was quickly disqualified for cheating. Prefiguring today’s doping scandals, Thomas Hicks, the marathon’s winner, begged for water during the race—and was given strychnine by his trainers. Trademark googly eyes notwithstanding, McCarthy’s acrylic compositions of runners are based on period photographs. Endpapers reproduce fairgoers’ handwritten postcards.

Solid research underpins whimsy in McCarthy’s latest historical foray. (historical note, photographs, selected bibliography) (Informational picture book. 5-8)



Winning Sports Picture Books

Cheating marathoners; a trailblazing sports reporter; a girl shortstop; and an illegal integrated b-ball game. Here are some nonfiction sports picture books that capture the dramatic action both on and off the track/field/court.

Meghan McCarthy’s The Wildest Race Ever: The Story of the 1904 Olympic Marathon describes America’s first Olympic marathon, which took place in St. Louis during the World’s Fair. It was a zany one, with cheating runners (one caught a ride in a car), contaminated water, pilfered peaches, and strychnine poisoning. McCarthy’s chatty text focuses on a few of the frontrunners and other colorful characters, shown in her recognizable cartoonlike acrylic illustrations. A well-paced — and winning — nonfiction picture book. (Simon/Wiseman, 5–8 years)