Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliett

Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliett, is reminiscent of The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler but definitely stands on its own. Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay have a one-of-a-kind teacher. Instead of sitting them down with books and lectures and pointless homework excitements, she pretty much leads them where their fancy takes them. Petra and Calder aren’t friends at first, but as they bump into each other under some very interesting circumstances, a friendship quickly grows between them. They are fascinated with the theft of a Vermeer painting, and the thief’s insistence that the painting will not be returned until the works not actually painted by Vermeer are noted in all of the museums. They study the suspicious characters around them as they search for the painting.

The story is quick-paced but quite intricate in detail. Calder corresponds with his friend Tommy, whose stepfather Fred moved him and his mother away, using a code they invented from his favourite pentominoes. The letters to and from Calder and Tommy are written in code, and the reader has to decipher them to find out what was said. Very fun. And there is also a secret message in Brett Helquist’s delightful illustrations. I loved the book, and believe it definitely deserved its 2005 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile.

A sequel is out, called The Wright 3. Tommy is back in town, and perhaps a little envious of Calder’s friendship with Petra and their solution of the crime. Because everyone knows he’s a much better detective than Calder. I’m looking forward to reading this one as well.


    Chasing Vermeer was my favorite of the books I read with my daughter in 2006 for the book club we attend together. I love pentominoes - they figure prominently in my favorite online game, Blokus - so that aspect of the book was great fun for me. I also enjoyed the theme of coincidence - or lack thereof. I bought The Wright Three several months ago, but I haven't gotten to it yet.