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Chasing Vermeer

Chasing Vermeer

Balliet Art Mystery Series
by Blue Balliett, Brett Helquist (Illustrator)
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
Mass market paperback, 275 pages
List Price: $7.99 Sale Price: $5.59

Chasing Vermeer is illustrated by Brett Helquist, an illustrator also known for his work on Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events. Like Snicket, Balliet's heroes are young children who solve complex mysteries with the help of literature-savvy (or, in this case art-savvy) adults. Chasing Vermeer, however, is a more lighthearted alternative to Snicket's sometimes grim fare.

Petra Andalee is of Middle-Eastern descent, lives in a houseful of kids, and wants to be a writer. Calder Pillay is an only child, has an Indian father, and likes to play with a set of pentominoes. Petra and Calder are soon caught up in an international art scandal involving a mysterious book, their fun and challenging sixth-grade teacher, an eccentric old woman, three mysterious letters, and, at the center, the priceless Vermeer painting A Lady Writing.

Petra and Calder sometimes use random word association with a set of pentominoes to confirm their actions, which is a bit kooky, but in the world of Chasing Vermeer even seemingly random coincidences fit together. Petra has a dream about A Lady Writing in which the lady warns her of approaching danger, and Petra and Calder are a little too quick to jump to conclusions based on random associations, coincidences, and hunches. But at the end the kids admit that they aren't sure which of the strange things that happened were really clues or just lucky coincidences. It's all a bit up in the air, left for the reader to interpret for themselves.

It's more than just a novel though, offering up chances for readers to interact with the story itself. The book contains a secret message hidden in Brett Helquist's drawings, and the key to a pentomino code which readers can use to decipher untranslated secret messages in the story itself.

Relying a bit more on fun than substance, Chasing Vermeer is still a decent mystery story, incorporating the author's love and excitement for art (and especially the Dutch artist Vermeer) with encouragement of critical thinking, and the admonition to keep finding new ways of seeing the world.

Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here.

Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here.
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Summary: When a famous Vermeer called The Lady Writing disappears, friends Petra and Calder investigate.

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