Chasing Vermeer
Author: Blue Balliett; Illustrator: Brett Helquist
Pages: 272
Publisher/Date: Scholastic/2004
ISBN: 0439372941 (pb)
Age Levels: 9-12 and up

Book Review

Chasing Vermeer begins with this note from the author:
A set of pentominoes is a mathematical tool consisting of twelve pieces . . . Pentominoes are used by mathematicians around the word to explore ideas about geometry and numbers . . . With a little practice, they can be used as puzzle pieces and put together into thousands of different rectangles of many sizes and shapes . . .

This book begins, like a set of pentominoes, with separate pieces. Eventually they will all come together. Don’t be fooled by ideas that seem, at first, to fit easily. Don’t be fooled by ideas that don’t seem to fit at all. Pentominoes, like people, can surprise you.
This is an apt description of the book. Chasing Vermeer is filled with patterns and puzzles, red herrings, blue M & Ms, coincidences, secret letters, codes, and an art theft.

The story is set in Chicago and the main characters are sixth-grade intellectuals Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay. The mystery is set into motion when Ms. Hussey, their non-conventional teacher, takes her students to an art museum to look for paintings containing written communications.

Unexplainable occurrences and coincidences begin to swirl through the plot like falling leaves. As Petra and Calder use their imaginations and intuition to try to fit these together, a Vermeer painting, A Lady Writing, is stolen en route to Chicago’s Art Institute.

The thief threatens to destroy the painting. Petra and Calder combine forces, as well as clues, to try to rescue the painting.

Each chapter includes an expressive illustration by Brett Helquist (of Lemony Snicket fame). Careful readers will find a secret message hidden in the drawings.

Chasing Vermeer is a mind-expanding, action-packed adventure full of quirky characters and twists and turns. Things are not always what they seem. And sometimes the questions are more important than the answers.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by the teachers at Education Oasis
©2005 Education Oasis

About the Author

Blue Balliett was born and raised in New York City and loved to stop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Frick Museum on her way home from school. She's always loved museums, mysteries, and hearing about things that can't be explained in the usual ways. After studying art history at Brown University, she lived in Nantucket, where she got married. When her kids started school the family moved to Chicago, and Blue began teaching 3rd grade at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

About the Illustrator

Brett Helquist was born in Arizona. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife.


Be sure to visit Scholastic's Chasing Vermeer webpage where you can obtain more information and play pentominoes!