Almonte's Brothers of the Wind. R. Tait McKenzie and James Naismith.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Almonte's Brothers of the Wind is a biography of R. Tait McKenzie and James Naismith, two Canadians prominent in the development of sports and sports education. Naismith is best known as the creator of the game of basketball. McKenzie became a sculptor of international renown famous for his creations of athletes from various sports and numerous memorials.
James Naismith and Tait McKenzie were outstanding Canadians who outgrew the bounds of rural, eastern Ontario where they were born and left their mark on the world stage. Their story deserves to be told. Author Frank Cosentino, a Physical Education professor and former CFL quarterback who has written ten books on Canadian sport, is well-qualified to tell it. This book should be popular with young Canadians searching for sports heroes - both Naismith and McKenzie are worthy role models - but the amount of detail used in the book may put off non-sports fans.
The fact that James Naismith developed the game of basketball using two peach baskets is well known in Canada. Cosentino's account of the creative process involved is both thorough and interesting. It is a remarkable story. Anyone with a love of the game will enjoy learning the steps taken by Naismith and will appreciate Cosentino's account of how the game has progressed since its conception.
Fewer Canadians are likely to be aware of the work of R. Tait McKenzie. Six years younger than Naismith, he idolized the older boy, followed a similar career path, and became his life-long friend. Both men went from Almonte Township in the Ottawa Valley to McGill University. Both became McGill Directors of Gymnastics and medical doctors. Both were also interested in sports as part of the complete development of the person, believing that a sound mind and sound body must go together. However, while Naismith left his mark by creating basketball, McKenzie left his by creating widely acclaimed sculptures in Canada, the United States, and Europe. The book contains illustrations of his work. They are too small, however, to show the reader much of McKenzie's many creative gifts.
Almonte's Brothers of the Wind is well researched and well documented, but non-sports enthusiasts may find all the fine detail about organizations like the YMCA a little boring. There are also occasional grammatical errors which are annoying and detract from an otherwise well-written book. The narrative is sometimes confusing, as well, particularly in the first part of the book when the story jumps back and forth between Naismith and McKenzie. It would have been better to write about them one at a time since they did lead separate, if similar lives.
Anyone with a love of basketball and an interest in the development of the sport will want to read this book. Cosentino's enthusiasm for the subjects of his book is obvious but some readers will find his attention to detail tedious.
Recommended with reservations.
Thomas F. Chambers is a professor of politics, economics, and history at Canadore College of Arts and Technology in North Bay, Ontario.
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