Sunday, October 24, 2010

SLIS 5420 - Module 9 - Chasing Vermeer

Module 9 - Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet

Balliet, Blue. Chasing Vermeer. Scholastic Paperbacks, 2005. ISBN: 978-043979927-0

When a Vermeer painting is stolen, Petra and Calder find themselves drawn to the mystery. They become friends and with the help of a Charles Fort book and various interesting characters, together track down the various clues leading to the painting's whereabouts.

What I Thought
This is a really fun book. There are a lot of clues and puzzles hidden and embedded within the story and illustrations. Synchronicity is very important in this book. Calder and Petra explore the world using clues that originally seemed unrelated and then turned out to have significant meaning. Calder's pentominoes are often part of this string of coincidences that help the two children solve the crime. When coincidence leads Petra to find a book about Charles Fort, they learn even more about the "connectedness" of events and objects. Fort believed and wrote about many strange, unexplained things. The spooky feel of the ideas of Charles Fort and all of the strange meanings Petra and Calder find in the world around them are a lot of fun. As humans, we all look for meaning and children reading this book will have a great time trying to decode what is a "real" clue and what is just "static."

Calder and his friend's cipher is also a neat puzzle. I am not good at codes, so it took me a while to decode their messages. Finding the clues in the pictures is also fun. This book has a lot of potential for children who enjoy puzzles, riddles and things of a spooky nature.

Another great thing about the book is the wonderful way it explores art and self-expression. Calder and Petra are free-spirits and people I would love to meet.

Outside Reviews

"Puzzles nest within puzzles in this ingeniously plotted and lightly delivered first novel that, revolving around the heist of a Vermeer painting, also touches on the nature of coincidence, truth, art and similarly meaty topics. Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay become friends in sixth grade at a school operated by the University of Chicago (Balliett taught at the University's Lab Schools), both of them independent thinkers excited by their maverick teacher, Ms. Hussey. For reasons unknown to her students, the teacher asks her class to ponder the importance of letters (the epistolary sort) and to mull over Picasso's ideas about art as "a lie that tells the truth." Readers have the edge on the characters, being privy to an enigmatic letter sent to three unidentified persons outlining a centuries-old "crime" against a painter's artistic legacy. These mysteries deepen exponentially when someone steals a Vermeer masterpiece and holds it hostage, demanding scholarly redress for misattributions within Vermeer's small oeuvre. The art mystery and the crisp intelligence of the prose immediately recall E.L. Konigsburg, but Balliett is an original: her protagonists also receive clues through dreams, pentominoes (math tools with alphabetic correspondences), secret codes (including some left to readers to decipher) and other deliberately non-rational devices. Helquist (the Lemony Snicket books) compounds the fun with drawings that incorporate the pentomino idea to supply visual clues as well. Thick with devilish red herrings, this smart, playful story never stops challenging (and exhilarating) the audience."

(2004). CHASING VERMEER (Book). Publishers Weekly, 251(24), 63. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

"Art, intrigue, and plenty of twists and turns make this art mystery a great read. Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay set out to find the connection between their teacher (a freewheeling constructivist teacher), the eccentric woman in their neighborhood, the bookstore owner, and an international art thief. Balliett intersperses fascinating information about Johannes Vermeer and his paintings throughout the two friends' quest to solve the mystery--a mystery layered with pentominoes (a mathematical tool consisting of 12 pieces), puzzling clues, and suspicious strangers. Helquist's detailed black-and-white chapter illustrations hold hidden messages, clues related to the pentominoes, and more puzzles. Fans of E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game will find equal pleasure in this debut by a talented writer."

(2004). CHASING VERMEER (Book). Kirkus Reviews, 72(10), 487. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

Using this Book in the Library
Scavenger hunt! This book can be used as a jump-point for a scavenger hunt. Children can be encouraged to find clues hidden throughout the library relating to subjects from the book. Since there are more books about Petra and Calder, they can be part of the hunt, too.

For fun: 
Learn more about Charles Fort and visit the website of the Charles Fort Institute for the "study of strange experiences and anomalous phenomena."

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