cover image Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas

Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas

Meghan McCarthy, . . Knopf, $15.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-375-82940-6

McCarthy (Aliens Are Coming! ) mines history in this profile of bodybuilder Charles Atlas. As a boy, Italian-born Angelo Siciliano arrives in a Brooklyn neighborhood of “Irish, Jewish, Polish, and Italian immigrants. Life on the streets was tough ” for the puny lad. McCarthy pictures the quintessential moment when the “98 pound weakling” gets sand kicked in his face on the beach at Coney Island, although her onomatopoeic “Splat!” fails to convey sand's grit and the teasing bully in his Chaplin-era two-piece swimsuit is none too scary. Slender Angelo takes to admiring Greek heroes; inspired by watching a zoo's muscular lion, he develops his own fitness regimen. Before long, a friend compares him to an Atlas statue, bestowing “a new name for a new body!” McCarthy's acrylic portraits of Atlas emphasize big soulful eyes, a happy grin and ballooning muscles; a closing “Try It Yourself!” section recommends exercises for interested readers. Much is made of Atlas's being named “The World's Most Perfectly Developed Man,” yet given his notable transformation, McCarthy's cartoonish portrayal hardly seems to do his accomplishments justice. Additionally the paintings of physical activity have a listless, static quality; the immobile characters barely appear to exert themselves. But the story of how Atlas inspired millions worldwide to live healthier lives is captivating in itself—eager readers can find additional historical details in a comprehensive endnote. Ages 5-8. (June)