Friday, April 18, 2008

Blue Balliett's The Calder Game

Blue Balliett writes very sophisticated kids' mysteries. I love the mix of math, art, logic and suspense. She draws the reader in from the first page and keeps them in the story to the end. Her three main characters, Calder Pillay, Petra Andalee, and Tommy Segovia return to solve yet another mystery in her latest, The Calder Game. The three are now seventh graders at the University School in Chicago. They are extremely bright, creative kids and each has a special talent or ability that help them solve the problems Blue Balliett throws at them.

Balliett's first two art related mysteries, Chasing Vermeer and The Wright 3, are favorites of mine, but I think this one is the best of the three. The plot was a little simpler to follow, with enough twists and turns to keep me interested, and as in all of them, there are interesting characters at every turn.In this adventure, Calder Pellay, yes named for the artist, and his classmates attend a showing of Alexander Calder mobiles at the Chicago Museum of Art. Fascinated by the changing sculptures, Calder, the student not the artist, stumbles on a game in which guests of the museum can design mobiles of five objects, words, ideas, whatever and hang them for all to see. Since Calder loves patterns that involve fives, this is right up his alley. Calder is known for the pentominos he carries in his pocket to help him solve a variety of problems.
When Calder's father is scheduled to travel to England to visit the gardens of Blenheim Palace, he takes his son with him to allow him to explore the mazes in the garden, and to experience small old town life in Woodstock, England. Calder is thrilled because it will get him away from his boring unimaginative teacher for a while, and his friends are envious. Imagine the surprise when Calder and his father find a sculpture by Alexander Calder in the center of the ancient English town. Needless to say, the townsfolk are not thrilled with the piece as it doesn't really match there town's "old English" charm. This is where the mystery begins, and student readers will need to hold on to keep things straight. Calder meets up with some unusual characters that both frighten and intrigue him. It's tough to sort the good guys from the bad guys as Blue Balliett weaves a twisted web of mystery around the disappearance of a boy named Calder, and a valuable sculpture by Alexander Calder.
As I said, I enjoyed this Blue Balliett mystery more than the other two, and I liked them a lot. I have found, though, that it is a special group of kids that enjoy them as much as I do. Many kids find the connection of art, math, philosophy, and logic too much to follow and give up on them easily. Of the three, I believe this one will be the easiest for them to follow and stay with. although the length, 375 pages, may seem daunting to some.

Once again, illustrator Brett Helquist provides a mystery within the mystery. In his drawings for this novel, pieces of Calder sculptures are hidden. When they are spotted, and matched with the kids' code in the story, a word is spelled. I have never been one for puzzles and have yet to figure out the puzzles in Helquist's drawings. If someone figures this one out, will you please let me know!?


  1. I sosoSO want to read this! I'm glad to hear it's the best of the three so far.

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