________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 16 . . . . March 30, 2007


The Strongest Man in the World: Louis Cyr.

Nicolas Debon.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi, 2007.
36 pp., cloth, $17.95.           
ISBN 978-0-88899-731-9.

Subject Headings:
Cyr, Louis, 1863-1912-Juvenile literature.
Strong men-Québec (Province)-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Weight lifters-Québec (Province)-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 1-7 / Ages 6-12.

Review by Marilynne V. Black.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reader Copy.


By the end of the nineteenth century, weightlifting ranked among the most popular entertainments in the Western world. Part actors, part athletes (weightlifting was featured in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896), strongmen inspired awe and respect from their audiences.

Louis Cyr (1863-1912) was famous for his feats around the world. Like many strongmen of his day, he came from the province of Quebec. Born in the small town of Saint-Cyprien de Napierville, he proved himself to be an extraordinary athlete from an early age and remained undefeated throughout his career. His skill is all the more impressive because he executed his lifts in slow, almost continuous movements, with no bending of the knees or jerking to assist him.


Weighing in at 360 pounds, Cyr learns from the doctor that, if he doesn't take care of himself, he will not live much longer. The story depicts him reminiscing with his daughter about his life as a weightlifting contestant at an annual fair, a policeman, a touring performer and a circus owner.

     Although this picture book is catalogued as nonfiction, it goes beyond that. Debon has duplicated the comic book format of Four Pictures of Emily Carr to bring the career of the Quebec strongman to life. Pictures, ranging in size from nine to a page to full page, blend fictionalized dialogue in speech bubbles with information in short captions below the pictures. There is not, however, enough information about what records Cyr held, and in some cases still holds, to make this an in-depth biography. Because of this, it is not a book from which to do an extensive research report. However, coupled with the one page Afterword, enough background information is given to entice young readers to learn more about this little known Canadian. Given that there are so few books about famous Canadians, this will be a welcome addition to library shelves.

     Cyr's childhood, early training, and later circus life are simply depicted in muted colours giving the book an old-fashioned look which is in keeping with the story. The endpapers are decorated with "sports cards" of other early strongmen and circus performers. The book also contains several reproductions of actual photographs of Cyr. In addition, a brief Author's Note, Picture Credits, and several books about Cyr are cited. 


Marilynne V. Black is a former B.C. elementary teacher-librarian who completed her Master of Arts in Children's Literature (University of British Columbia) in the spring of 2005.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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