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Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Great Antonio, written and illustrated by Elise Gravel. Toon Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2016. $18.95 ages 6 and up

"Little is known about
his childhood. Maybe
his parents were

Or maybe, just maybe
he came from another
planet where he was
raised by BEARS."

I knew nothing of Montreal strongman Antonio Barichievich. The illustrated biography is my introduction to his story, and it is most welcome. It would be very difficult to walk away from the reading without feeling admiration for him and some sadness for his notoriety.

Ms. Gravel begins her book by assuring this reader that it isn't surprising that I don't know his story:

"We don't know much about Antonio Barichievich.
He came from Europe. His dad may have been a
woodcutter. One thing we do know is ...
... that he was a

She goes on to share some comical explanations for his size, and his background.  She continues the story with his arrival in Canada, his size, his appetite and those things that he loved most ... especially wrestling! His strength and his many feats were legendary and much admired. I liked learning about some of the habits that made him even more special: he liked to wear a tux, sing Italian arias, sleep on the floor, wear his hair in long braids and had an abiding love for children. When a love affair failed, he took to the streets where he lived for the rest of his life.

"His office was a donut shop.
It was the only place he could be reached."

Eccentric, bold and friendly, he was much loved and admired and his 2002 death resulted in many visits to his favorite bench at the donut shop, as mourners stopped by to pay tribute to a 'great' man. This book is a fitting and heartfelt homage to a spirited strong man who made his mark in Canadian history.                                                                          

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