Lynn: What IS it that intrigues us about crooks? People seem to have a fascination with their sneaky ways even while we shake our heads at their exploits. Kids are just as interested and I can attest to the instant appeal of Greg Pizzoli’s entry into the field, Tricky Vic: the Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower (2015). The book was lying on the table when one of the focus group arrived here from school. It took about 5 seconds to lure him in and within a minute he was reading sections to me.
A little bit of reality and a lot of
fiction … just like a successful con.
What a story! It is so incredible that it is hard to believe it is actually true! We loved the gee-whiz tone Pizzoli uses as he recounts the story of how the bright young Czech turned himself into a con man, becoming Count Victor Lustig and eventually dozens of other aliases. “Tricky Vic” cheated wealthy passengers on transatlantic voyages, perfected and used a con called The Romanian Money Box, and even conned Al Capone himself! One of his most picturesque schemes involved selling the Eiffel Tower for scrap which he pulled off not once but twice!
We both loved the insouciant artwork and the librarian me loved the fact that our 6th-grader read all the fascinating sidebars that provide information on things like Counterfeiting, Alcatraz Island, and the Critics of the Eiffel Tower. We jumped right online to check out some of the suggested sites (which were awesome) and I’m itching to read some of the sources listed. By the way, if you are interested, I just happen to have a bridge for sale.
“In 1890, the man who would one day be known by forty-five different aliases was born to the Miller family, in what is now the Czech Republic. His parents named him Robert.”
The accompanying illustration to these opening lines is a mixed-media collage of a B&W photograph baby body with a fingerprint for a face, posed “Kilroy was here” style above a muted-color city skyline. Tricky Vic appears with a fingerprint face throughout the book as he changes aliases and pulls off his various cons. A note in the back details how the artwork was created—a little bit of everything—and that Pizzoli incorporated textures and shapes he photographed in Paris. As Lynn supports with her Focus Group test, middle schoolers will find this style an appealing accompaniment to the zany stories of the cons. The design fits well thematically, too: a little bit of reality and a lot of fiction … just like a successful con.
This would make a great classroom read aloud as a springboard to research on Robert Miller or the many topics in the sidebars. You could also pair it with the Eiffel Tower chapter in There Goes the Neighborhood: Ten Buildings People Love to Hate (2001) by Susan Goldman Rubin. I’m definitely adding it to my Fun Nonfiction booktalk bibliography.
For more nonfiction blog posts for children and teens, check out the Nonfiction Monday website every Monday.