Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dude Of Deception

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer...
If you are a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!
Shel Silverstein

It is a tradition in some cultures to open storytelling with a poem or riddle.  These words penned by Shel Silverstein ask us, for the moments we read or listen to a book or gather to hear a teller of tales, to suspend what we believe to be true.  We are stepping into a world created by an author, an illustrator or a storyteller.  

History has revealed those with the same skills as authors, illustrators or storytellers whose desire is most definitely not entertainment or education.  These people excel at the art of deception with unlawful results as a goal.  The Impossibly True Story of TRICKY VIC the Man Who sold the Eiffel Tower (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), March 10, 2015) written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli chronicles the work of one of the best in the con business.

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.

His talent for learning presented itself at an early age, but he had no desire for formal schooling.  He wanted to learn from life; perfecting his mastery of gambling.  Prior to World War I he would travel back and forth on ships, pretending to be a man of wealth and gaining the trust of other travelers, leaving him free to readily steal from them.

Count Victor Lustig, as he called himself, adapted to conditions moving throughout Europe and finally locating in the United States during Prohibition.  After securing the blessing of the country's most infamous criminal, Al Capone, through a con no less, Tricky Vic devised a plan to earn him more cash with each mark (victim).  Through his ability to assess people and his superb fabrication savvy, he actually convinced them he had a box which could replicate one hundred dollar bills which he sold for ridiculous sums. In time his escapades appeared on the radar of law enforcement.  It was time to cross the ocean again.

Relocated in Paris, France, he masterminded his biggest scheme yet.  He did in fact persuade five prominent scrap metal dealers of his government affiliations and the secret project.  Fortunately for Tricky Vic pride figured prominently in his success.  Trying to stay one step ahead of capture, he headed back to the United States.  

There seemed to be no end to what Victor Lustig was capable of doing.  If he couldn't manipulate people to get their money, he made his own.  Bed sheets allow him his last small success while a key and a scar are his undoing.  Robert Miller most assuredly received and delivered invitations.

 Who wouldn't want to know about a man who used forty-five different aliases during his lifetime?  With this single sentence Greg Pizzoli creates a flood of the basic "w" questions in readers' minds. Layer by layer he supports his introduction providing answers with meticulously researched events in Victor Lustig's life.  With each paragraph he is painting a picture of this man's personality and his skills as a con artist.   Five sidebars give readers more insight into Prohibition, The Tower Critics, Hotel De Crillon, Counterfeiting and Alcatraz.  Here is a sample passage.

"Victor" was a convincing count:  exceedingly well dressed, soft spoken, and always with lots of money to spare at the game tables.  Once the ship docked and the passengers disembarked, "Count Lustig" would disappear, along with their money.  

The artwork in this title 

was created using pencil, ink, rubber stamps, halftone photographs, silk-screen, Zipatone, and Photoshop. 

While in Paris many of the photographs Greg Pizzoli took make an appearance in the pages of this title.  Unfolding the dust jacket a design is spread across from flap edge to flap edge with the tri-colors (French flag?) acting as the background; each item is significant including endorsements by Lane Smith and Jon Klassen on the back.  The book case is entirely different depicting the front and back of the envelope which played an important part in the Eiffel Tower scam.  On the opening and closing endpapers a red background of bricks supplies the canvas for a series of wanted posters.  In each of them (actually everywhere in the book) Tricky Vic's face is a thumbprint wearing a bowler hat.  (I can't help but think of movie The Thomas Crown Affair when I look at these hats.) The only difference in these endpapers is at the end on the right hand side. Readers can view Ten Commandments for Con Artists credited as being written by Count Lustig.

The more limited color palette on the matte-finished paper adds to the effectiveness of the visuals.  All of the images contribute to the story extending the text; saying what is not said.  As an example the narrative reads

But, before finishing his studies, and against his parents' wishes, he left home to become "an artist".

An elderly couple off to the side is shouting 


Tricky Vic is pictured raising his arm and pointing 

Ah yes, 
But an artist
all the same.

Many of the pictures depict a touch of humor such as the fish head on the mark in Paris.  The detailed diagram of The Romanian Money Box is exactly what readers need at that moment.  Every tiny element asks us to stop and read its meaning.  It's like piecing together the puzzle that was this man's life and his work.  

One of my many favorite illustrations is opposite Victor Lustig reading a paper sitting on a park bench in Paris.  It's a picture of the Eiffel Tower breaking apart but held together with pieces of tape.  A single sentence is attached to the picture.

This gave Lustig an idea.

This picture book biography, The Impossibly True Story of TRICKY VIC the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli, is going to be exceeding popular with readers.  Pizzoli's gift for speaking the language of his intended audience combined with his signature artwork makes for an exceptional story.  The best part is it's all true.  A glossary, extensive selected sources and an author's note are included at the end.

Please follow the attached links to Greg Pizzoli's name to access his website and blog.  This book is featured at Design of the Picture Book hosted by author and teacher librarian, Carter Higgins.  Author and blogger, Julie Danielson, highlights Greg Pizzoli and this title at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Pizzoli includes lots of information and images.  Greg Pizzoli was a recent guest on super and busy teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner's Let's Get Busy Podcast

Don't forget to stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other blogger's selections for this week's 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. I just need to buy this book. I have been hoping to see it somewhere but no luck. Your review is great.

    1. I know students are really going to gravitate toward this title. One booktalk will be all it will take. Thank you Alyson.

  2. Oh I just read about this man who sold the Eiffel Tower when I read the novel "The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe" by Romain Puertolas - this was mentioned in the novel. Now I'm even more interested to find this book.

    1. I am wondering if you ever got the book Myra. I just discussed it with students today during our Mock Caldecott unit.