A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday SuĂ§ie Stevenson (Henry and Mudge series).
- In 1882 the Knights of Columbus is established. Hence, it is Knights of Columbus Founders Day. Named in honor of Christopher Columbus, it is the largest Catholic fraternal service group in the world. Read Where Do You Think Youâ€™re Going, Christopher Columbus? by Jean Fritz, illustrated by Margot Tomes.
- Itâ€™s Smoke and Mirrors Day, to celebrate illusions. Read Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman, The Houdini Box by Brian Selznick, and Now You See It, Now You Donâ€™t by Seymour Simon.
March has been designated Youth Art Month, set aside to promote art and art education in the United States. The perfect book to celebrate the month, Blue Balliettâ€™s Chasing Vermeer, published in 2005, contains all the necessary elements to get young people thinking about art and artists.
Set at the University School in Hyde Park, Illinois, Chasing Vermeer features two very engaging protagonists, eleven-year-olds Petra and Calder. They have a lot in common: Both come from mixed racial backgrounds; both might be characterized as quirky loners. Calder plays with Pentominoes, a mathematical tool, and explores the world in terms of geometry and numbers. Petra has fallen under the spell of Charles Fort and his book Lo! which claims the world is full of strange events that no one witnesses. When Petra and Calder become friends, they bring two divergent and original minds together for a sleuthing team.
From the beginning of the book, readers know that some game is afoot. Three strange letters are delivered to surprised readers: â€śIf you show this to the authorities, you will most certainly be placing your life in danger.â€ť Petra and Calderâ€™s teacher Ms. Hussey, a free thinker who they adore, begins to act suspiciously. Then the unthinkable happensâ€”a valuable Vermeer painting, â€śA Lady Writing,â€ť vanishes on route from Washington, D.C. to Chicago, where itâ€™s been sent for an exhibition. The thief appears to be a total lunaticâ€”for he/she is asking that people examine the career of Vermeer, get to know this geniusâ€™s paintings, post notes about him on the Internet, and determine which of the works attributed to him in museums are false. If all these things donâ€™t happen, the thief will destroy this masterpiece.
Because of the premise, the book presents a lot of information about Vermeer that fits quite naturally into the story. While the world studies Vermeer, Petra and Calder begin to solve the crime.Â Although the police and everyone else remain clueless, these two sleuths build a pattern of clues and coincidences that lead them on a dark night, alone, into a deserted building to search for the paintingâ€™s hiding place.
Even Brett Helquistâ€™s brooding artwork contains clues to the mystery; there are Pentominoes built into the composition. Just as quirky and original as the protagonists, Chasing Vermeer provides delightful, page-turning pleasure, and Petra and Calder reappear in two engaging sequels, The Wright 3 and The Calder Game, exploring Frank Lloyd Wright and Alexander Calder. All three focus on art and the creative process. For anyone trying to get a young person interested in painting, Chasing Vermeer makes a good place to begin. If you are using the book, you might want to watch John Schumaker’sÂ video tour of the actual sites mentioned.
Hereâ€™s a passage from Chasing Vermeer:
Hours later, under a sliver of moon, Petra was almost asleep. As she rolled over, squashing her pillow into position on top of her arm, a strange thing happened: Although her eyes were closed, she seemed to be looking at a young woman.
This person was old-fashioned. She was dressed in a yellow jacket that had dappled fur on the edges, and her hair was pulled back tightly with shiny ribbons. Dangly earrings, perhaps pearls, caught the light. She had been sitting at a table and writing; something had interrupted her. Quill pen in hand, she had paused to look up.
The woman was gazing directly into Petra’s eyes. Her expression was knowing, filled with kindness and interest, and she had the look of someone who understood without being told.
Petra found herself soaking up every detail of the image. Although the room was dark, light touched the metal fastenings on a wooden box, a fold of blue cloth on the table, the curve of the woman’s forehead, the creamy lemon of her jacket. This was a calm, deliberate world, a world where dreams were real and each syllable held the light like a pearl. It was a writer’s world–and Petra was inside it.
Originally posted March 29, 2011. Updated for .