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Chasing Vermeer

Review

Chasing Vermeer

written by Blue Balliett, illustrated by Brett Helquist

Secrets, lies and mysteries surround the work of one of the greatest artists of all time. Moonlit chases, hidden hiding places, and even a secret code help to solve the mystery. Is this the new sequel to THE DA VINCI CODE? Nope --- it's an equally entertaining novel for younger readers. CHASING VERMEER encourages kids to use all their creativity and problem-solving skills to tackle a real-life mystery surrounding the elusive painter Johannes Vermeer.

Calder Pillay and Petra Andalee are both a little odd. Their intellectual curiosity and their unique hobbies fit right in, though, with their eccentric families and with their creative classmates at the University of Chicago Lab School. When three mysterious letters show up in their neighborhood and seem linked to the theft of a famous Vermeer painting, a chain of coincidences brings Calder and Petra together to help solve the crime.

First-time author Blue Balliett seems to enjoy playing with coincidences, both plausible and far-fetched, and the theme of chance and coincidence cleverly runs through the novel. The novel, with its high-profile crime of a well-known painting (secretly reproduced on the book underneath the dust jacket), also seeks to inspire young people to appreciate art as both dynamic and relevant to their lives. "Children were thinking about Vermeer, too. They were comparing, writing, and visiting museums with friends. Many said that they hadn't realized how cool old pictures could be."

The novel's illustrations breathe almost as much life into the book as the text does. Illustrator Brett Helquist (best known for illustrating Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events) includes a full-page illustration for each chapter. Pay attention! Some of the drawings reveal a secret that careful readers can help uncover.

With its emphasis on puzzle-solving, CHASING VERMEER is reminiscent of classic novels like THE WESTING GAME. Its focus on connections and coincidences will remind many of HOLES, and its art-related mystery calls to mind FROM THE SECRET FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER. In other words, CHASING VERMEER deserves a spot alongside many well-loved children's books. It's that good.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 1, 2005

Chasing Vermeer
written by Blue Balliett, illustrated by Brett Helquist

  • Publication Date: May 1, 2005
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0439372976
  • ISBN-13: 9780439372978