Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

Chasing VermeerChasing Vermeer

by Blue Balliett

  • VOYA: 4Q4P M
  • Lexile Level: 770L
  • Reading level: Ages 9-12
  • Mass Market Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks (May 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0439372976
  • ISBN-13: 978-0439799270

Petra and Calder attend the same school, but until they collide (literally) at a museum in their Hyde Park neighborhood, they have no idea just how important they will become to one another.  Sharing a mutual love of art, their sixth-grade teacher, Ms. Hussey, and blue M&Ms, the unlikely friends find themselves intertwined in the case of the theft of a famous and valuable Vermeer painting.  As the two follow the clues, their friendship grows.

The summary seems simplistic, and it is.  This story is much more than just a childish romp through an art theft.  First, Calder and Petra are not ordinary children.  Both are knowledgable and unapologetically passionate about art.  Calder is fascinated with puzzles, so much so that he constantly swirls the pieces of a set of pantomimes in his pocket when he is thinking.  Petra is equally unique and her keen powers of observation and connection-making help the two uncover the secrets behind the art heist.  Ms. Hussey is also a well-developed and interesting character, and she presents a truly positive and inspiring example of a teacher.  Her students adore her because she is as passionate as they are, and she truly cares about helping them further their interests.  Her techniques are modern and innovative, and the reader can easily understand why Petra and Calder are so fond of her.

The setting of Hyde Park, where the author was once a teacher at the same school her characters attend, is well drawn.  Her love for the area is well illustrated by the fictional world that exists in her novel, and the reader may come away with a greater understanding and appreciation of the area.  In many ways, the setting plays a part in the novel, if simply because few settings could be inhabited by such earnest and intriguing young people.

The story itself includes many clues and riddles to keep the reader engaged as Petra and Calder struggle to retrieve the famed Vermeer.  Historical facts are interspersed throughout and add to the story without seeming heavy-handed or auxiliary.  At the same time, the reader is introduced to a great deal of information about Vermeer, art, and the Hyde Park neighborhood where the story takes place.  All of this data flows seamlessly from the story and become a part of the reader without force or effort.  Astute readers will note that many questions concerning the heist are not entirely answered, but the satisfaction of solving the case is enough to allow any reader to overlook such details.

Calder and Petra are remarkable characters and I felt a great connection to both of them right away.  Their interactions are well drawn and I look forward to seeing how their relationship grows and changes as they grow.

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