October 14, 2016
Pentominoes and stolen art
by Blue Balliett
illustrations by Brett Helquist
Pentominoes are a set of puzzle pieces that can be put together into rectangles of different sizes and shapes. They're used by mathematicians to explore the relationships between geometry and numbers. Calder, one of the protagonists of Balliett's novel, carries pentominoes everywhere he goes. He relies on them for guidance as he and his friend Petra work together to solve the mystery of a stolen painting.
Chasing Vermeer is quite a challenging mystery in that it doesn't rely on the standard amassing of clues. Fingerprints and magnifying glasses are not in use. Instead, Calder and Petra's methods of detection involve intuition, tape measures, and an amazing series of coincidences. A subplot about a missing boy named Frog add to the intrigue, aided by Helquist's pictures, which contain hidden frogs and pentominoes. They're a code to a secret message that readers are challenged to decipher (a web address with the answer is included).
Kids may find the book a bit slow-going at first, but the suspense soon escalates with late-night sleuthing trips and an exciting chase. Along the way, they'll learn a little something about art and the life of painter Johannes Vermeer.