Friday, September 4, 2009


Middle School

CHASING VERMEER by Blue Balliett, illustrated by Brett Helquist

Bibliographic Information:
Balliett, B. (2004). Chasing Vermeer. New York: Scholastic Press.


Petra and Calder find themselves wrapped up in mystery upon mystery after a famous Vermeer painting is stolen and their 6th grade teacher starts acting suspicious. With the use of Petra's dreams and Calder's pentominoes, the two friends piece together clue after clue as they search for Vermeer's painting and help their teacher, as well as a few other people, too!
The New York Times: (Excerpt)
Balliett... has taken the literary craze for intellectual sleuthing..., and combined it with a fidelity to old-fashioned trail-of-clues children's books, resulting in a novel about a stolen Vermeer painting that is suspenseful, exciting, charming and even unexpectedly moving.—Meg Wolitzer (Retrieved October 29, 2009, from
Kirkus Reviews: (Excerpt)
Art, intrigue, and plenty of twists and turns make this art mystery a great read. Balliett intersperses fascinating information about Johannes Vermeer and his paintings throughout the two friends' quest to solve the mystery-a mystery layered with pentominoes (a mathematical tool consisting of 12 pieces), puzzling clues, and suspicious strangers. Helquist's detailed black-and-white chapter illustrations hold hidden messages, clues related to the pentominoes, and more puzzles. Fans of E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game will find equal pleasure in this debut by a talented writer. (Retrieved October 29, 2009, from

Lead Comments:
I love how Balliett creates the story by building mystery on mystery, but yet allows the reader a chance to solve them along the way. To a math person, the pentominoes make for an interesting twist that is compounded in the illustrations. The reader can find clues in the illustrations to help solve the mysteries and this adds a visual element to the book that many mysteries don't have. Rich, funny and interesting characters are developed in the book and the reader roots for them to be safe and be right!

Teacher Tools & Library Leads:

Pentominoes! What a great twist to the mystery. Find some plastic, cardboard, wood, or just paper pentominoes and have the kids recreate some of the rectangles, words, and patterns that Calder, Petra and Mrs. Sharpe find in the book. Also, use the illustrations to look for pentominoe patterns that help solve the mystery.

Research Verneer and look for the painting that was stolen in the book. Is Veneer a real artist and does the painting really exist?

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