Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

My eldest son picked up Chasing Vermeer and read the first two chapters. By itself that sentence should not be breathtaking. However this is the first (non-picture) book he has ever voluntarily picked up and read. I don't know if he will get much farther, to be honest. He is starting first grade and is just jumping into the world of chapter books and I think Chasing Vermeer is over his head for now. But it will stay on the shelf for another day.

In the meantime, I had heard about Blue Balliett's first book somewhere along the way and was more than happy to pick up a copy at the library book sale for under a dollar. I decided to read the story first to see if it was appropriate for my 6 year old but also because I love a good kid's book. I'm glad I did.

Chasing Vermeer is the story of Petra and Calder, two socially-awkward kids, at a lab school attached to the University of Chicago. Their enthusiastic teacher introduces them to the art museum and the idea of debating with the meaning of art. They both discover an affinity for Vermeer when a famous Vermeer is stolen launching them into a mystery to uncover what really happened. The idea of coincidences, hidden messages, and questioning the truth lie at the heart of Balliett's book.

The story has an appeal at many levels. The main characters have interesting backgrounds and idiosyncrasies which speak to children who don't always fit in. The illustrations in the book and parts of the plot revolve around hidden messages and breaking codes which I know my boys both love. But the plot is both genuine and well-enough-crafted to appeal to a parent. I don't know that I will run out and buy Balliett's other books. But I will leave Chasing Vermeer for my boys on another day and will happily buy the other stories at their request.

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