Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth by Don Tate

Please watch this video before reading the interview. 

Hi, Don Tate! Happy Tuesday! Thank you for sharing the TERRIFIC fitness video for Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth. I learned so much about you and Eugen Sandow. What inspired you to tell Eugen’s story?

Don Tate: As a kid, I was skinny. Sometimes I got teased about my skinny legs or bony arms. I wanted to get bigger and stronger. When I got older, my dad gave me a bodybuilders nutrition book. It was written by two-time Mr. Olympia winner, Dr. Franco Columbu. I read the book and dreamed of having powerful muscles someday. 

When I grew up, I was still skinny, though. Too skinny to be caught at a gym trying to work out my little legs, I thought. My younger brother, however, was very athletic. He worked out every day. Eventually, he got involved in bodybuilding   and won a statewide contest.

That’s when I realized that if I was going to get stronger, I’d have to do more than just dream about it—I’d have to get more physically active. I joined a gym and lifted weights. For me, the results came quickly. And before long, I was up on stage competing in a bodybuilding contest. And I won two trophies!

It was the best night of my life, and I wanted to share the experience with young readers. But how? I certainly wouldn’t advise third-grader to pump iron. Soon, I discovered a picture of Eugen Sandow lifting a huge barbell. I learned that he was known as the “Father of bodybuilding,” that he organized the very first bodybuilding competition. I related to his childhood dream of building himself up and getting healthy. I agreed with his ideas about the connection between a healthy body and a strong mind. I felt that Sandow’s story was an important one to share with young readers. 

What’s the most interesting thing you learned about Eugen Sandow? 

Don Tate: I learned so many interesting things about Sandow and the lives of strong-people of the Victorian era. I say “strong-people” because women also performed feats of strength in the side-show circuit. Katie Sandwina, born Katharina Brumbach, was a circus strongwoman who, according to legend, once defeated Eugen Sandow in a contest of strength! How about that?

It’s also interesting that Sandow, inspired by the muscularity of the Greek and Roman statues in art museums, actually measured their muscles. Then he worked out to build himself up to look like a Greek sculpture. Talk about life imitating art—Sandow turned himself into a work of art! 

Why should we book talk and support picture-book biographies? 

I visit school libraries all over the country, talking to kids about my books and the process of creating them. When I ask kids what they like to read, they always say nonfiction—true stories. Kids love to learn about real people. 

Biographies are like a portal to real people in history. There’s a lot of crazy and confusing things happening in our world today. Things that many adults don’t understand, much less children. What caused these things happen? How can we make things better? How did people in the past make things better? Did they actually make things better, or worse? It’s complicated. But kids will want to know the truth—they need to know. A good place to begin understanding and learning about each other is by looking at history. Kids can learn so much by studying the lives of people who’ve changed the world in meaningful ways. 

Please finish these sentence starters: 

Picture books are the gateway to literacy.

School libraries are the heart of the school. Seriously, I’ve visited hundreds of schools. The library is always abuzz (even more than the gym. But—shhh!—this is supposed to be a health post). 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about this amazing video presentation. Thanks for the opportunity to talk more about it. The video was created by Curious City. The wonderful people behind this book consulting firm are Kirsten Cappy and Mark Mattos. Together, they create discovery opportunities for children’s literature. What exactly does that mean? Well, in my case, they’ve created booktrailers, and other guides to be used along with my books [ In essence, they help my books find readers. They help educators use my books in libraries and classrooms.
Earlier this summer, Kirsten and Mark, who live in Portland, Maine, flew to Austin, where I live. They spent an entire day shooting a video interview of me in my home studio, at the YMCA, and at the Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports at the University of Texas. I kinda felt like a reality TV star! 

When they returned home, they edited the video and culled images from my “Sandow” book, my bodybuilding competition videos, and photographs. And did you watch the video until the very end? If not, please do—they included a fun post-credits scene! 

I get anxious when a video camera is pointed at me, so I was fairly inarticulate on the day of filming. But Curious City did a masterful job of editing me together! 

Borrow Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 


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