Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Will To Build

When you're short (five feet, one inch as an adult) you grow up hearing your dad say, "She's little but she's wiry."  Hearing the pride in his voice made me try harder at everything I did.  It wasn't until my late twenties (high school sports for girls consisted of the Girls Athletic Association and Title IX was not a reality until I had nearly finished college) when I started to pursue competitive running.  In high school I was a huge fan of the sport, attending the boys' track meets.  As a teacher librarian I've not only attended my schools' track meets, but volunteered to act as the official announcer and score keeper.

To be a runner height is not as critical as it is in other sports.  Running is something you can build upon every single day even if you start out walking, then fast walking, jogging and then running.  When you finally place in a race or beat your personal best time, the thrill is immeasurable.  Author illustrator Don Tate's newest title, Strong As Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth (Charlesbridge, August 22, 2017) chronicles the life of a remarkable man, who filled with determination, worked and trained and shared his passion and knowledge with others. He, like so many of us, started out small.

In his day, Eugen Sandow was known as "the Strongest Man on Earth."  He could break metal chains by expanding his broad chest.  

Each feat was more incredible than the previous undertaking.  If you start at the beginning though, this was not always true for Friedrich Wilhelm Muller, his birth name.  Friedrich was sick, thin and unable to participate in neighborhood games.

His love of sports pushed him to keep trying.  His successes, academically, earned him a trip to Italy.  It was there where he first saw statues of ancient athletes.  They became his inspiration to exercise more.  And he did but it did not work...at first.

It was when he left the university to join the circus as an acrobat that the exercise began to shape his muscles.  From the circus he found himself modeling for art students.  One of them arranged for Friedrich to meet

Professor Attila, a professional strongman.

This introduction changed Friedrich's life.

In 1889 Friedrich, now calling himself Eugen Sandow, answered a challenge, setting forth all he had learned about being a professional strongman, including showmanship.  The results of this challenge brought his name into the limelight.  From performances in the United Kingdom he crossed the Atlantic to make a name for himself in the United States.  Everywhere he went crowds were dazzled by his deeds.

His shows did take a toll on Eugen until he returned home to heal but that did not stop this man.  He continued to be an advocate for maintaining a healthy body through exercise and eating nutritious meals.  His crowning achievement in 1901, along with many of his ideas and practices on bodybuilding, are still used and respected today.

Even after reading this title penned by Don Tate several times readers will feel through his word choices and sentences a growing sense of excitement.  Don breaks Eugen Sandow's life into sections, like chapters, naming a geographical place with a date or span of dates.  It's as if we are charting this man's path to success.

Each of these sections focuses on one or more events contributing to Eugen's life choices.  They are like his exercises, building toward something better, something greater.  Here is a sample passage.

The Big Challenge
London, 1889
Sampson and Cyclops were the greatest professional strongmen
of their time.  They were brawny.  They were brutes.  They were
loudmouthed, muscle-bound lunks!  Sampson and Cyclops lifted
horses and elephants as though they were as light as feathers.

Each night after their act in London, they roared out a
challenge to the audience:  they dared anyone to try to defeat
them in a competition of strength.  But who would accept such a
foolish challenge?

Eugen Sandow, that's who.

On the opened dust jacket and book case Don Tate shows readers the great strides this extraordinary man made in his life.  Using red with radiating rays, light and shadow he draws our attention to the man Eugen Sandow became.  To the left, on the back, on a background of yellow with a spotlight effect on a circular image we see Friedrich as a youth struggling to lift barbells.

The opening and closing endpapers in shades of brown highlight the performance feats of Eugen Sandow.  There are nine altogether.  It's astonishing what he was able to do.  On the title page the highly prized Sandow statuette is showcased.

Rendered digitally using Manga Studio all of the illustrations except for six single page pictures extend across two pages.  In many of these visual displays the perspective shifts from one side to the other.  This serves to include readers as participants in the depiction.

The portrayal of the people shows them all fully animated with facial expressions conveying a variety of moods.  With each page turn you find yourself stopping and looking to see what details Don Tate includes to represent an accurate time and place; the hoop rolling of children, the playing of violins during a circus act, the hats worn by men and women and the attire of the strongmen.  The text for the beginning of each section is intricately framed.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for The Big Challenge.  In the foreground along the bottom are a row of spectators who have watched the show presented by Sampson and Cyclops.  On the far right with a shy grin on his face is Sandow, carefully raising a hand.  He is wearing a top hat and suit.  On the left, on a stage with a patterned curtain in a rose color behind them, stand Sampson and Cyclops.  There are weights lined up on either side of them.  They are both wearing scowls on their faces.  Their costumes and boots are indicative of the times.  The air crackles with anticipation, especially considering what follows over the next two pages.

We need picture book biographies like Strong As Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth written and illustrated by Don Tate.  They inform us about distinctive people who made a lasting contribution to human history.  They inspire us to never give up on our heart's desire.  In the Afterword we are provided with more information about Eugen Sandow.  It is followed by Life Is Movement, four exercises you can do at home.  In an Author's Note Don Tate addresses his own journey in bodybuilding and how he chose to write about Eugen Sandow.  A bibliography, acknowledgements and quotation sources are included.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To discover more about Don Tate and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  At the publisher's website you can view the first two page illustration.  A website for this specific title has been created.  It is brimming with information about research and process.  Don Tate visits Watch. Connect. Read., the blog of Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher.  In addition to a Q & A and sentence completions, you have to watch the two videos.

You will enjoy visiting Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected by participants in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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