Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: Chasing Vermeer

by Blue Balliett
Start Date: 21 August 2011
End Date: 21 August 2011
Hardcover, 254 pages
Published June 1st 2004

Summary (from Goodreads):
When a book of unexplainable occurences brings Petra and Calder together, strange things start to happen: Seemingly unrelated events connect; an eccentric old woman seeks their company; an invaluable Vermeer painting disappears. Before they know it, the two find themselves at the center of an international art scandal, where no one is spared from suspicion. As Petra and Calder are drawn clue by clue into a mysterious labyrinth, they must draw on their powers of intuition, their problem solving skills, and their knowledge of Vermeer. Can they decipher a crime that has stumped even the FBI?

My Review:
Although adults may not appreciate it quite as much, Chasing Vermeer is a delightful mystery for elementary and middle grade readers.

I'd read this book several times in the past, starting in late elementary school, and I've always thought it was a lot of fun. It is just as good now as it was then. Some adults might get a little fed up with all of the coincidences and the fact the Petra and Calder solve the mystery for the most part by chance, but I don't think kids will be bothered by either. Personally, I loved all the coincidences and how everything fit together so neatly.

Patterns were everywhere in Chasing Vermeer. In the beginning of the book, Balliett talks about pentominoes, which are mathematical tools that act as puzzle pieces throughout the story, and the pattern incorporated into the illustrations. In addition, there are number patterns and the patterns from Lo! (a book incorporated into the story about strange coincidences). Also, there are frogs all over the place. They're part of the code in the illustrations, and they're part of the story as well. One of the first unusual occurances is the disappearance of a boy named Frog, and a recurring quote from Lo! is "We shall pick up an existence by its frogs." I was never able to figure out the hidden code beyond finding the hidden frogs in the illustrations, but I looked it up today because I was curious. If you would like to see the answer to the code, the answer is here on the Scholastic website.

Speaking of the illustrations, they are fantastic. They add a ton to the story in addition to being part of the code. All of them are great, and I especially liked Helquist's illustration of A Lady Writing, the Vermeer painting that disappears. The real painting is under the dust jacket on the hardcover version.

I rarely bothered to figure out the coded letters between Calder and his friend Tommy, but I can imagine it would be lots of fun for kids to figure out. The key is given when Calder receives the first letter. It's probably worth it, though, to write down the code or at least bookmark the page, since it pops up multiple times, and it fits in to the story in more ways than it first seems. I scanned in a copy of the code below. It's on a bookmark I got when Blue Balliett visited my elementary school. I was always the kid hanging out in the library during lunch (big surprise there), so I got a signed bookmark when she came to talk. I can hardly believe I still have it.

As for characterization, Calder and Petra are very easy to relate to. They are normal kids, and that is what makes them special. 

Overall thoughts: Chasing Vermeer is a lot of fun, and perfect for elementary and early middle schoolers. I enjoyed it even now, and look forward to rereading the sequels, The Wright 3 and The Calder Game, sometime soon.

I read this book for the Fortnight of Old Favorites Challenge.
Click for more information


Small Review said...

I've been wondering about this book for one of my library girls. Sounds like something she'll like. Thanks!

Easepod said...

Check out the author's website at Her new book, The Danger Box, is worth checking out, too.

Pica said...

Small- You're welcome!

Easepod- I read The Danger Box a few months ago. I liked it, but it seemed like the kind of book I'd need to read a few times to really appreciate. I'm planning on rereading it, as well as The Wright 3 and The Calder Game, whenever a get a chance. I might have to make up some other event like FOOF to get through all the books I want to reread.


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