Tom Playfair

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Tom Playfair; Or Making a Start
Author Francis J. Finn
Country USA
Language English
Series Fr. Finn’s Famous Three
Genre fiction, Children’s literature
Publisher TAN Books & Publishers
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 255 pp
ISBN 978-0-89555-670-7
OCLC 48554244
Preceded by Percy Wynn
Followed by Harry Dee

Tom Playfair; Or Making a Start is a book by a Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Francis J. Finn S.J., originally published in 1890, and written for youths ages 9–12. Translated into many languages, it is a constant favourite among children of all countries.

Suffering from insomnia, Finn started writing using two of his sleepless hours every night on this story, which tells of the ordinary familiar incidents of Catholic residential school life. Finn hoped to give his readers his ideal of a genuine Catholic American boy.[1]

Synopsis and narrative style[edit]

The popularity of Percy Wynn, a story he wrote after Tom Playfair, but published before it, prepared the way for the appearance of this first and most popular novel. Idealism and deft moral teaching hid themselves in the pranks of Tom Playfair and his fellows. Hardly had the book appeared in 1890 than it came out in a German translation. That boys of all nations liked Tom Playfair can be seen from the following: besides several editions in German, a Portuguese version appeared in 1908, an Italian in 1910, a Polish in 1913, and French and Dutch versions in 1925. Its universal appeal, manifested by the volume of sales, ranks it with the Frank Merriwell and Tom Brown books. Tom Playfair was always to remain Finn's favourite character, and became in the eyes of hundreds of thousands the typical American Catholic boy.

An unusual letter, which arrived at St. Marys about 1910 attests the universal appeal this book was to have. A young Bavarian boy, anxious to find out if Tom Playfair really lived, addressed a letter in his native tongue to "The Very Distinguished Father President of the Jesuit College, near Pawnee River, U. S. A." The state of Kansas was not mentioned; not even the Kaw river; the "Pawnee" was the name Finn gave in his stories to Bourbonnais creek near the college. Yet the letter arrived in due time.[2]

Like a Catholic version of Tom Sawyer or the Hardy Boys, this books teaches Catholic virtues through its adventurous and edifying narration. It is said that Finn's books have caused marked improvement in the behaviour, motivation and character of the young people who read them.[citation needed]

The story opens with 10-year-old Tom Playfair being quite a handful for his well-meaning but soft-hearted aunt. (Tom's mother has died.) Mr. Playfair decides to ship his son off to St. Maure's boarding school — an all-boys academy run by Jesuits — to shape him up, as well as to help him make a good preparation for his upcoming First Communion. Tom is less than enthusiastic, but his adventures are just about to begin: life at St. Maure's[3] will not be dull.

Finn’s publisher, Benziger Brothers, called Tom Playfair "the most successful book for Catholic boys and girls ever published in the English language."[4]


  1. ^ Catalogus Sociorum et Oficiorum Provinciae Missourianae Societatis Jesu (St. Louis 1887).
  2. ^ Cf. O'Connor, J. F., "The Jesuits in the Kaw Valley" (1925), p. 577, footnote.-MS. copy at St. Mary's College, Kansas.
  3. ^ A fictionalised representation of the real St. Mary's College, Kansas — cf. "Tom Playfair's School: The History of St. Mary's Academy & College" - webpage
  4. ^