About the Book: 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
- Watch an unofficial (but well-made) book trailer for Chasing Vermeer
- Visit Blue Balliett’s website
- Visit Scholastic’s Chasing Vermeer page, especially the Games and Activities
- Find out more activities and math problems you can do withpentominos
- Learn more about Vermeer’s life and paintings
- Visit A Different Place‘s Chasing Vermeer page,which includes great resources, activities, and ideas
More to Read:
- Another puzzle-solving mystery: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
- Another story of a boy, a girl, and a big museum-style adventure: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
- Another head-scratcher involving an artifact and a famous figure from long ago: Shakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach
- Another book with history, mystery, and adventure all mixed together:The 39 Clues: Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan (series)
- Another puzzling mystery/mystery with puzzles: The Red Blazer Girls (series) by Michael Beil