Recommended for ages 6-8
Antonio Barichievich was a bear of a man: he weighed as much as a horse, once wrestled a bear, pulled passenger buses full of people, and could eat 25 roast chickens and a dozen donuts in one sitting. He was also a beloved figure: an immigrant from Eastern Europe who loved his adopted country of Canada and its people. He was a wrestler and a strongman; he was a kind and gentle soul who twirled kids around on his gigantic braids, who lived simply, and could often be found in his neighborhood donut shop.
Even if you’re not familiar with The Great Antonio – I wasn’t, before this – this is a sweet tribute to a beloved public figure. The book is accessible to anyone, because it’s a story about a larger-than-life person who did larger-than-life things. Add bright and bold illustration to a story about a man that some people thought of in Paul Bunyan-type terms, even joking that he may have been from another planet – and you have a modern tall tale for a new audience.
A note from the author/illustrator at the end of the book explains her interest in Antonio. She “illustrates a little “About Me”, showing readers things she likes, like fart jokes, grumpy unidentified things, and strong and funny girl characters, which assures that I should probably become BFFs with her, because I like those things too, and my kids and the kids in my library know it. This will make life so much easier when I booktalk this book (and try to find more of her illustrated books in the US).
Check out Elsie Gravel’s website for more of her artwork and books. The Great Antonio‘s page on TOON Books will also have a link to an educator’s guide closer to pub date, so keep it bookmarked. The Great Antonio is a Level 2 TOON Book, so it’s appropriate for readers in grades 1-2 (but you can read it to younger – my 4 year old loved seeing Antonio swing kids from his braids and wrestle a bear). If your kids’ school uses Guided Reading, the book is appropriate for levels G-K, and it’s a Lexile BR-240.
As a biography, it’s pretty niche, at least here in the U.S., but as a story about a person who touched lives and made headlines, it’s a great read. I love the art and the story, so I’ll see how this one does in my collection, especially with some booktalking/storytimes.