Booktalk: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

Product Details

Chasing Vermeer

by Blue Balliett

Book 1 of the series

Petra and Calder may be in the same class at the University of Chicago Laboratory School, but they hardly know each other.  But when a priceless piece of art is stolen, the two misfits come together to solve the mystery before it is too late.  How will classic art, a strange book, pentominos puzzle pieces, and blue m&ms break the case?  Find out in Chasing Vermeer.

Tips:

  • I added detail and clarified them as needed.  Pentominos, in particular, drew blank looks, so I just added an aside for future classes that they are a math puzzle.
  • With time, I found that students found the misfits to be strange friends until I mentioned that they both adored their teacher, Ms. Hussey, and that she appeared to be involved in the theft.  The name garnered a giggle or two, which I chose to acknowledge with a quick “wink wink, it’s funny, right”.
  • Since I am so big on covers, I started holding up the book and displaying the cover art at the very beginning.  I asked if it looked familiar and some students thought it did.  I then told them that the illustrations were done by Brett Helquist who may seem familiar from the Series of Unfortunate Events books.  I also mentioned that the illustrations in the book actually play into the story and give clues to solving the mystery.
  • You can stress the male or female main characters fairly equally to make the book seem equally appealing.  For one class, I mentioned that I really adored Petra because she is so strong and comfortable with herself, even as a misfit.  For another, I mentioned that Calder is so likeable because he seems to just be this quiet kid, but he is actually very complicated.
  • Definitely mentioned the art angle if the class is interested.  The reader learns a great deal about Vermeer without even realizing it, so anyone with an interest in art, but a dislike for mysteries may find it worth a try
  • I also mentioned the two further books in the series, The Wright 3 and The Calder Game  because the teacher and students seemed interested.  The first is about the Robie House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the second is about mobile artist Alexander Calder whom the main character is named after.  In each, the reader learns about the artist in a fun, immediate way.
  • For a Teen Advisory Group or book club, this series pairs perfectly with related crafts and further exploration.
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