Chasing Vermeen by Blue Balliett;
Scholastic Press: New York, 2004; $16.95
Have you ever gotten a letter that changed your life? Well, it was an amazing letter that started Petra and Calder, two classmates, on a great adventure searching for a stolen Vermeer painting. In this story, their teacher, Ms. Hussey, led her class to explore different ways of communicating. While Petra enjoyed writing, most of her classmates like Calder didn't, saying "What about numbers? What about pictures? What about plain old talking?" I can relate to this because I do many of the arts, like dance, music, acting and painting. When I dance, I communicate with motion and movement, with music I communicate with sound and rhythm, with acting I communicate with words and emotions, and with painting I communicate with the feelings I put into images.
Ms. Hussey reminds me of many of my arts teachers because she has many unusual and unique ways of thinking and making up solutions. I feel that I relate to her student Petra because we both have wild hair, we are always up for action, and we like to discover a lot. We are creative, love writing, and want to do things our own way whether people like it or not. Also, we like to keep to ourselves, and we are very modest.
In this book, Calder uses some little figures called pentominoes, which are shapes that you can put together in different ways to make a rectangle, and that can represent letters. Calder would carry pentominoes with him everywhere he would go. He would pull one out, and the first word that came to mind beginning with the letter that the pentomino stood for would always somehow help him. Calder used pentominoes as one way of communicating, and part of the mystery of this story is that there is a pentomino code hidden in this book.
The action in Chasing Vermeer goes on and off like a light switch. It starts calmly, then the story zooms and you are right in the action. The author brings you to the edge of the cliff and then it ends just as it started, calmly and peacefully. The book reminds me of Harry Potter and Eragon because it is so mysterious and exciting, and because you never know what is going to happen next. When I first opened the book, I didn't understand what a pentomino was. I got frustrated and I didn't want to read it. But then, I checked the Web site, www.scholastic.com/chasingvermeer, which really helped! And now I love it! The Web site also has a great pentomino game. Before long, I noticed a lot of things in the illustrations that I didn't see before, like hidden pentomino pieces and a hidden animal figure. I highly recommend this book, but it is a difficult book to follow and probably not good for younger readers. This book is an amazing and challenging adventure.