Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

Chasing Vermeer (2004) involves an art theft investigated by two 11-year-old students, Calder and Petra. There are clues and codes and correspondences and visits to the Art Institute in Chicago. 

A real book Lo! by Charles Fort published in 1931 also plays a part. This book, which comes into the possession of Calder and Petra, looks at mysterious happenings - such as frogs falling from the sky - and propels them into a new way of thinking about the mystery of the theft of Vermeer's A Lady Writing.

You will need your Secret Decoder Ring as a couple of the letters in the book are written in a language devised by Calder. (But don't worry, the key is supplied and I had fun deciphering the messages.)

I learned from Calder about pentominoes. The twelve pieces in a set are made up five squares that share at least one side and, based on their shape, are named after letters. Apparently, mathematicians use them to explore geometry and numbers. Calder, who carries a set in his pocket, uses them to help lead him to his next step in solving the crime.

There are wonderful illustrations by Brett Helquist which capture the characters and the action perfectly. They also provide clues to the puzzle although I am not sure if I 'got' them.

I appreciated the way information about Vermeer and his art was presented and, thanks to the Internet, I was able to view images of the paintings as I went along. 

The plot and the dénouement are all quite complicated - but in a good way - and even the author Blue Balliett writes about the story:

This book begins with separate pieces. Eventually they will all come together. Don't be fooled by ideas that seem, at first, to fit easily. Don't be fooled by ideas that don't seem to fit at all.

Chasing Vermeer is for you if you like art; a bit of mystery; smart, independent, amateur detectives; and, don't mind giving your brain a bit of a cosmic stretch.


  1. Sounds like a very interesting book, and a painless way to learn some new things.

    1. Kathy, this book was fun to read. I see that there are two other books featuring Petra and Calder that give them a chance to solve new mysteries.