Friday, January 25, 2013

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, Illustrated by Brett Helquist

Image from

Scholastic, 2004.

6th graders Petra and Calder are in the same class and live just a few houses from each other in Chicago’s Hyde Park, but they don’t become friends until they both start noticing an unusual number of coincidences. But are they really coincidences? The friends aren’t sure, but as they follow the trail of clues they realize it’s up to them to find the priceless Vermeer painting that has been stolen in a sensational art heist. Who is this audacious thief? Why did the thief send cryptic letters to three people in Hyde Park? And, most importantly, can Petra and Calder save the painting?

This book will not only introduce readers to the paintings of Johannes Vermeer, but it will also have them pondering big questions such as, “What is art?” and “Can art lie or tell the truth?” Balliett skillfully and seamlessly alternates between the workings of Petra and Calder’s minds. This allows information to be revealed quickly and the pace of the book gathers to the thrilling conclusion. In addition to a complex and compelling plotline, Balliett clever use of codes and wordplay keeps readers vigilant. Helquist’s stylistic illustrations not only provide context, they also contain a hidden message.

Ready to test your sleuthing skills? Read an excerpt from the book.

*Bring in books or look at pictures of Vermeer’s paintings online. Compare pictures and look for repeating themes/elements.

*Invite kids to do the assignment Ms. Hussey gives her class (page 36). Ask them to pick something they consider a work of art and then write a description for it without naming the object. Encourage them to think about how the object affects the five senses, as well the emotions it evokes.

*Write letters using Calder’s pentomino code (page 57). Encourage kids to come up with their own code using the letters in their name, the name of a famous person, or even a short phrase.

*Buy or make pentominoes for kids to play with while reading and discussing this book. If you’d like your pentominoes to last longer, try backing them with cardboard or laminating them.

The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

*Check out the sequels for more mysteries featuring Petra, Calder, and their friend Tommy:

*Other books by Blue Balliett:
Hold Fast (to be released in 2013)

Age 9+ / Grade 4+


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