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Book Review

Publisher's Note:

This bewitching first novel is a puzzle, wrapped in a mystery, disguised as an adventure, and delivered as a work of art. When a book of unexplainable occurrences brings Petra and Calder together, strange things start to happen: Seemingly unrelated events connect; an eccentric old woman seeks their company; an invaluable Vermeer painting disappears. Before they know it, the two find themselves at the center of an international art scandal, where no one is spared from suspicion. As Petra and Calder are drawn clue by clue into a mysterious labyrinth, they must draw on their powers of intuition, their problem solving skills, and their knowledge of Vermeer. Can they decipher a crime that has stumped even the FBI?…

Chasing Vermeer

by Blue Balliett

Overall Book Review:

Eleven-year-olds Calder and Petra find themselves thrust into a mystery that has captured the entire world: Who stole the famous Vermeer painting titled “A Lady Writing”? And is the painting really by Vermeer?

Written by first-time author Blue Balliett, the mystery has a number of weaknesses, but young readers may enjoy the unique mystery and may be forgiving of the story’s faults which include more coincidences and red herrings than you can shake a stick at and a resolution that fails to tie up many loose ends—including whether the painting is by Vermeer or not.

This book was a bestseller and has won multiple awards, it’s an unusual mystery, and it has interesting elements that invite readers to do outside research. I felt the story was too packed with “healthy additives” such as pentominoes—a type of puzzle, and a secret code. However, I think I’m in the minority on this since it’s a very popular book—my great niece loved!

To enjoy the story, kids will have to become caught up in the question of whether Vermeer really painted all the works attributed to him; they’ll need to enjoy deciphering the code Calder develops from his pentominoes, and they’ll need to become intrigued by the strange phenomena Petra reads about. The story is episodic until page 215 when the pace speeds up as Petra and Calder discover the painting and have to get it safely into the hands of the police.

Reading Level 4, according to publisher. 

Of interest to boys and girls.

Edgar Award, 2005, and three other awards.

This review has been acquired and adapted from

Content Analysis:

This review was acquired from on May 15, 2014 and was not completed using Compass Book Ratings’ standardized checklist.  Nevertheless, it contains useful content information which is included here.  The overall number ratings have been approximated based on this information.

2 G* d

Heroine shoves hero; teacher hurts arm by falling when lights go out; heroine pleased when her accidental bump to mean girl’s elbow makes pudding run down girl’s leg, girl slips, falls on substitute teacher; heroine accidently drops rock on own foot; hero falls while running away, knocked off slide by thief, suffers concussion, heroine and policeman find drops of blood on sweatshirt left behind by hero.

Mention of heroine secretly counting bare bottoms at art museum; mention twice of a portrait of woman whose “dress was ridiculously small for the top part of her body”; note claiming hero and heroine kissed, not true. 

Mature Subject Matter:


Alcohol / Drug Use:


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Please note that reviews dated prior to February 1, 2012 came from and had a more informal content review process. Those reviews have been added to our database because they have a lot of great content information, but their format will look different and there may be wider variation in those reviews.