The Great Antonio is Elise Gravel's loving tribute to Antonio Barichievich, the Croatian born strong man who was a Montreal fixture for many years. The Great Antonio is also yet another superb beginning reader from the fantastic TOON Books. Gravel begins this fanciful story of the life of this giant of a man speculating about his possible parentage and wondering about his childhood in Croatia. This may seem like an odd subject for a beginning reader, but Gravel tells Antonio's story with a playful tone that is immediately engaging.
To show readers just how HUGE Antonio was, she shows his clothes (a cat could sleep in his shoe, but it was quite smelly) and his eating habits. She also shows reader the various opponents he wrestled and the many enormous, heaving things he lifted and pulled.
Antonio was larger than life and stories about him border on the unbelievable. Reading Gravel's author notes at the end of the book helped me get a perspective on this strange - for a beginning reader, anyway - story. Gravel shares that one of her favorite authors is Roald Dahl, who "got her interested in unusual people and animals," saying that she is, "attracted to anyone who is STRANGE or FUNNY." Growing up in Montreal, Gravel was very familiar with this strange and funny man. Like Sampson, Antonio had magnificent hair - long, thick dreadlocks that fell to the ground and were often used to pull buses. Or, Antonio would put metal in his braids and use them as golf clubs and more.
Gravel gives The Great Antonio the feel of a tall tale, speculating about his life and his feats but also respectfully sharing the stranger aspects of it. Near the end of his life, Antonio chose to live on the streets of Montreal, using a donut shop as his office. Gravel tells readers that, when he died, a mountain of flowers was left at his favorite table at the donut shop. Antonio himself may have created this air of mystery about himself, lending to his larger than life persona. In her author notes, Gravel shares that, after his death, many of his "wild stories" were proven to be true!
Source: Review Copy