Monday, May 6, 2013

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

From Goodreads: A puzzling art theft is solved by two sixth-grade sleuths in a first-rate first novel by Blue Balliett, illustrated by Series of Unfortunate Events artist Brett Helquist. Cut from similar cloth to The Da Vinci Code while harkening back to E. L. Konigsburg and Agatha Christie, Balliett's book follows young Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay as they piece together separate, seemingly disconnected events to locate The Lady Writing, a Vermeer painting that gets stolen en route to Chicago's Art Institute. Going on the theory that there are no coincidences, the two wonder about the link between their teacher's statements, Petra's dreams, a book Petra finds in the library, and other clues that set the reader guessing as to their significance as well. But after they learn of the culprit's aim to correct untruths about Vermeer's life and art -- which spurs them into full-throttle detective work -- the pieces all come together in a brilliant ending sure to make readers cheer, "Ah ha!" Infused with intrigue and Helquist's clever illustrations that include coded messages, Balliett's novel is a dynamic can't-miss that will get those brain cells firing as it satiates your appetite for intelligent, modern-day mystery.

My Two Cents: I am a big fan of middle grade with "bonus features" like art, math, or science woven into the story. Chasing Vermeer is a fun, fast-paced mystery that will keep kids fascinated and teach them plenty about Vermeer (and pentominos!) in the process. Helquist's illustrations add a great deal to the book, and not just because they're infused with secret pentomino messages. A great choice for boys and girls alike.

Grade Level: 4-8

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