Chasing Vermeer



Book: Chasing Vermeer

Author: Blue Balliett

Illustrator: Brett Helquist

Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks, republished in 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0439372978

ISBN-10: 0439372976

Related website: (publisher)

Language level: 3

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 8 – 12

Rating: *** 3 stars (FAIR)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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Balliett, Blue.  Chasing Vermeer (published in 2004 by Scholastic Inc., 557 Broadway, New York City, NY  10012).  Calder Pillay and Petra Andalee, both of whom turn twelve during the course of this story, live with their families in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, IL, and are sixth grade students in Ms. Isabel Hussey’s class at the University Lab School near the University of Chicago.  A valuable 1665 painting, A Lady Writing by Johannes Vermeer, is stolen en route from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, to the Art Institute of Chicago.  The thief then writes letters to the newspapers about it.    Since the theft seems to have some kind of connection to their families, friends, and neighbors, the two youngsters decide to look for the picture.  What clues do they come across?  Will they locate the painting?  Or can the thief stop them and manage to get away with his crime?  And who took the picture anyway?

Chasing Vermeer is an intriguing tale that easily holds one’s attention.  Author Elizabeth Balliett Klein, alias Blue Balliett, “wrote the book to explore the ways in which people perceive connections between supposedly unrelated events and situations, connections that many people miss.”  While it is intended to encourage kids to “think outside the box” and take a different approach towards art, some of the supposed connections are a little far-fetched, seeming coincidences that are not coincidences in the plot but in real life probably would be just coincidences.  A couple of these involve Petra’s dreaming about (one critic called it “channeling”) the lady in the painting and Calder’s random drawing of pentominoes, letter shaped puzzle pieces from which he guesses clues based on the shape.  While it may be a bit questionable as an illustration of real problem solving skills, one can still enjoy it as a simple fiction novel with a lot of information about artist Vermeer.

As to language, a few common euphemisms (darn) and some childish slang (fart) occur, but there is no cursing.  However, the exclamation of surprise “Oh my God,” which is a form of taking the Lord’s name in vain or profanity, appears twice.  And just as bad, my friend Kathy Davis of noted, “Though the two kids mean well (locate the painting and safely return it), they resort to lying, sneaking, and other levels of deception to accomplish their goals,” calling it a “mediocre book.”  There are three sequels.  Originally they were marketed as the “Vermeer Trilogy Book Series (3 Books)” with The Wright 3 (2007) and The Calder Game (2010), and then another one, Pieces and Players, was added in 2016.

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