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Review of The Great Antonio

gravel_great-antonioThe Great Antonio
by Elise Gravel; illus. by the author; trans. from the French by Richard Kutner
Primary    TOON    64 pp.
10/16    978-1-943145-08-9    $12.95

TOON Books continues to reinvent the easy reader with this biography of eccentric strongman Antonio Barichievich, a Croatian-born showman who became a Montreal legend. Fact, speculation, and tall tale mingle in a simple text. “Antonio’s clothes. 1. His shirt. You could cut a parachute out of it. 2. His shoes. A large cat could sleep in one of them.” Guinness World Record fans will appreciate the specific detail. “Here, he’s pulling a four-hundred-and-forty-three-ton train over a distance of sixty-five feet!” Energetic illustrations in muted colors feature a large, pink, hairy, joyful Antonio. Wild typefaces seem to want to burst the bounds of the page. In his heyday Antonio sang opera, wrestled bears, pulled buses with his braids, and ate twenty-five chickens at one go, but there is a hint of melancholy in the final chapter of his life, when he was essentially homeless. Gravel includes the sadness but then fantasizes an appropriate afterlife for him: among body-building extraterrestrials on another planet. Back matter includes a few more details about Antonio. In this innovative portrait — not quite a biography yet not quite a legend — Gravel affectionately places Antonio in the Paul Bunyan tradition of mighty men.

From the November/December 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Sarah Ellis

Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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