Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book Nomination: Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas

Title: Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas
Author and Illustrator: Meghan McCarthy
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, New York
Source of Book: library copy

While biographies of George Washington, Harriet Tubman, and Christopher Columbus are important, it's always terrific to discover a biography of someone who made news in other (of course, not equally) noteworthy ways. Pair that with comic illustrations and a breezy text, and you get Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas.

His name may not be as instantly recognizable as it was in his heyday (I had not heard of him until I read this book), but Charles Atlas was a powerhouse name in the 50s and 60s. His story is the all-American story; immigrated from Italy as a young boy, Angelo Siciliano was a small boy who was regularly teased for his small stature. While on a neighborhood field trip, Angelo spots a statue of a very muscular Hercules. Angelo asked his teacher if a small kid could ever have muscles like that. His teacher suggested that he lift weights; not being able to afford weights, Angelo made weights.

Unfortunately; those weights didn't work. Angelo's favorite "thinking place" was the zoo, so on he trotted. Inspiration came to him while watching the lion; Angelo realized that muscles are built when they are stretched.

Angelo created his own fitness routine, and he began to see results. Others noticed as well; one even pointed out that he looked like a statue of Atlas, hence his new last name (Charlie was already a nickname).

Shows at the Coney Island sideshow and wins at The Most Beautiful Man Contest and a body building contest at which he was named "The World's Most Perfectly Developed Man" followed. His Atlas fitness course became followed world-wide, and he earned fans from all different walks of life.

The beauty of Strong Man is that Charlie's looks and muscles are not over emphasized. Rather, it is his hard work and his encouragement to others to get fit that anchor the story. Charlie Atlas did not encourage people to follow his fitness routine in order to make gigantic muscles; rather, he emphasized the self-confidence you get when you exercise and eat right. Remembering that he did not have the means to purchase expensive exercise equipment and accessories, he designed his exercise routine to be followed without the use of weights or equipment.

An author's note and four exercises created by exercise/physical therapy experts follow the text. This is a fun read of a remarkable man.

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