Sunday, May 3, 2009

Review: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

I had been coveting this children's book since it was released in hardcover, trying to convince my children that they wanted to read it, thereby granting myself permission to buy it. I haven't managed to convince them yet but when it arrived on the table at the school book sale, it was my duty to buy it to support the school library, right? And now that I've read it, I will be pushing the kids even harder to read it. A truly delightful and inventive tale, this had overtones of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or The Westing Game. Calder Pillay is mourning the loss of his best friend, who has moved out of state, when a strange book about unexplained happenings brings Calder together with Petra, a fellow student with a keen eye for coincidences. Petra and Calder build a friendship as they try to unravel the several mysteries: that of an elderly neighbor, that of their teacher's sudden nervousness and distractability, and of course, that of the missing Vermeer painting to which they feel a kinship connection. As the mysteries unfold, Calder and Petra race to find the painting before it is too late as they also seek to explain the other more minor mysteries. The plot abounds with leads, intuitions, and wrong turnings and the reader delights in following these endearing, slightly eccentric kids as they work their way through the clues, both intentionally and unintentionally uncovered. Everything about the book is meticulously done and the puzzle pieces are slotted together so expertly that I only figured out the connections slightly ahead of the characters, which either points to my thickheadedness or their genius (or both). But the true genius here is Balliett, in drawing such an appealing and engrossing story for both boys and girls, one that celebrates intelligence and friendship and perserverence and all those things that can easily cause a less accomplished book to come across as moralistic and dull. This book is anything but that and should be recommended to any and all children in your orbit.

1 comment:

  1. I've been wanting to read this aloud to my kids for a while - I need to move it up on the list!


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