Thursday, April 17, 2008

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

Most kids wouldn't be too interested in art theft. Whoopee. A painting. What is it, some old picture of some old woman? Well, let me get my jacket...I'm ready for an adventure!

Chasing Vermeer is about an art theft, but all typical responses don't apply. Yes, a priceless (as in: worth so much you can't really put a price on it, like, maybe...bazillions) painting is stolen. The thief questions its authenticity. Was this painting really done by Johannes Vermeer? The thief wants the public to become more aware of art, and a high profile crime, one that makes every 24/7 news channel, and one that hits Petra and Calder's neighborhood, is how the thief gets the public's attention focused on art.

Petra and Calder are in the same class, but have never really been friends. The events of the theft draw them together until they are actively trying to solve the crime. And what kid-reader doesn't cheer for the kid-characters who are trying to solve a mystery and prove themselves smarter than all the adult experts?

The involvement of people close to them - a grandmotherly neighbor (wife of a deceased Vermeer scholar), a bookstore owner, their teacher, and Calder's friend, Tommy, who may be in danger - draws Petra and Calder and the mystery even closer. Through a series of coincidences (sometimes, possibly, a bit too conveniently) they soon discover the painting is not only hidden in Chicago, it's hidden right in their own neighborhood!

One interesting part of the story is Calder's love of pentominoes. He uses them to help him think, playing with them - he's a fiddler, I guess - and the letter names of the pentomonoes give him ideas. Another cool part is the old book Petra discovers: Lo! by Charles Fort. It's a collection of odd news stories about disappearing people and other unexplained mysteries. Both are connected to the mystery of the stolen painting, and both will interest readers in real life.

Other books featuring Petra and Calder: The Wright 3 and The Calder Game.

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