Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliet, illustrated by Brett Helquist

I needed some relaxation reading as a break from academic readings on cataloging and creating library collections — and I had a cold. I curled up under the fluffy duvet with two warm tabby cats on my chest and had a fun time reading Chasing Vermeer. I had heard of this book in my Tween Literature class. It won the 2004 Agatha Award for Best Children/Young Adult mystery fiction and the Edgar Allen Poe Award. Warner Brothers appears to be making a movie of it, but there is no release date yet.

In this active but also brainy mystery, two school children band together to try to solve the mystery of a painting called Lady Writing that disappeared in transit between the National Gallery in D.C. and an art exhibit in Chicago. Calder is an awkward youngster who carried pentominoes around in his pocket. These are a set of 12 mathematical pieces of different shapes that can be used to solve problems. He also uses them in a more superstitious way to help direct him on his search. Petra reminds me a bit of Hermione with her bushy hair and glasses. She is reading a book called Lo that she found at the used book store. It is about unexplained events and coincidences. As they meet each other and start to learn about the mystery, Petra and Calder find more coincidences and find themselves caught up in a mystery that seems to include the widow of a murdered Vermeer expert, their 6th grade teacher, and a local bookseller, plus a mysterious stranger or two. Their search takes them on searches through the nearby university and the school basement and chases through the snow in suburban Chicago.

To add to the interest for younger readers, there are letters to decode and clues in the illustrations. By reading more background on the book, I found the clue in the illustrations are more extensive than I thought and they eventually spell out a phrase! If you give this book to your child before bedtime, don’t be surprised to find him or her under the covers with a flashlight!

The author is a teacher at the school she writes about. One of her themes is that children are intelligent and creative and adults don’t know everything.

There now are apparently two sequels to the book, The Wright 3 (2006) and The Calder Game (2008).

Balliett, Blue. (2004). Chasing Vermeer. Illustrated by Brett Helquist. New York: Scholastic Press. 254 pages. $16.95 Hardback. ISBN 0-439-37294-1


About KLevenson

I am Teacher Librarian at Piedmont High School in the San Francisco East Bay. I am a part time reference Librarian I for the San Francisco Public Library. I have a Masters in Library and Information Sciences from San Jose State and a Teacher Librarian credential in addition to my teaching credential in Science. My first MA was from Harvard in Archaeology. My students teach me something new every time I am with them!
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