100 Scope Notes
Inside 100 Scope Notes

Nonfiction Monday: Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower
By Greg Pizzoli

Viking (Penguin)

ISBN: 9780670016525
Grades 2-4
Out March 10, 2015

*Best New Book*

Find it at:
Schuler Books | Your Library

The Big Con. It’s an idea so captivating that countless books have been written about pulling the score of a lifetime – most of them aimed at adults. The topic has slowly crept into middle grade fiction, especially in the last decade or so, with books like Swindle, The Homework Machine, The 39 Clues and the like. But nonfiction tales of have been few and far between – especially in picture book form. Picture book biography Tricky Vic arrives to fill the void (and, perhaps, inspire others to join in). A big con that little people will love.

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.

A con man from a young age, Robert Miller – a.k.a. “Count Victor Lustig” – had an array of money making schemes (theft and counterfeiting included), concocted with a mix of intelligence and charm. While he made a dishonest living in these smaller crimes, Vic could also think big. In a breathtaking stroke of criminal genius, Vic managed to sell one of the most famous landmarks in the world – The Eiffel Tower. But would he get away with it?

This is Greg Pizzoli’s first foray into nonfiction territory, and Tricky Vic is intended for a slightly older audience (2nd-4th grade) than his picture books The Watermelon Seed and Number One Sam. While he still tells the story simply, this is far from a simple story to tell. Specifically, Vic’s sale of the Eiffel Tower remains shrouded in mystery. Pizzoli addresses this directly in the author’s note, saying the sources he referred to often contradicted each other, making a completely factual account impossible. Back matter also includes a glossary and selected sources. Occasional sidebars pop up to provide context for things like Prohibition and the Eiffel Tower (see below).

We’ve become more comfortable with anti-heroes in children’s literature, and Tricky Vic makes for a captivating, conniving character. Kids will delight in details of Vic’s ingenious Romanian Money Box scam, and  how he managed to win over mob boss Al Capone with a simple (but clever) trick. By boat and train, Vic managed to make his own way, albeit dishonestly.

Pizzoli’s signature bright colors and bold, graphic style remain intact, with the addition of photographic elements which add an appropriately historical feel. Vic, ever the elusive con man, is cleverly depicted with a fingerprint visage. This is just one of many unique visual elements employed to tell the story.

A big con for kids? Yes, please. Young heist fans will be very pleased.

Digital review copy from the author.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.