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Chasing Vermeer Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Posted by j128 in Children's Literature, Mystery.

Chasing VermeerChasing Vermeer was written by Blue Balliett and illustrated by Brett Helquist (A Series of Unfortunate Events) and published in 2003. A sequel, The Wright 3, was published in 2006. Chasing Vermeer revolves around two sixth-graders, Petra and Calder, who come together through a terrible crime. This crime was the theft of Vermeer’s painting, A Lady Writing. The thief delivered three letters in October to three people – a man and two women – prior to stealing A Lady Writing.


Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay go to the same school known as University School or U. School for short. They live on the same block only a few houses apart. But they are not friends. They do not hold anything against each other, they just have never really socialized with one another.

Calder’s friend Tommy had recently moved to New York City with his mum Zelda and his new dad whom he comes to call “Old Fred.” During his stay in New York, a boy known only as Frog disappears, and no one really knows about it – or so it seems.

Meanwhile Ms. Hussey, the new sixth grade teacher, is loved by everyone. She suggests going on an art expedition to look for clues and patterns in paintings at the museum after her other idea of writing a letter to her that she would never forget. Petra and Calder both get in trouble when they go into an out-of-bounds place but Ms. Hussey doesn’t mind. She says it’s a good way to find things out.

The art expedition initially fails as well. The class talks about art and Ms. Hussey talks about an interesting point in the story: Picasso said that artists use lies to tell the truth. This idea is used throughout the book as it continues.

By a few odd coincidences Petra and Calder learn about Johannes Vermeer and they create a friendship with one another whilst trying to learn more about Vermeer and the theft. Both Petra and Calder find it quite urgent to recover A Lady Writing.

Through their investigations they become acquainted with Mrs. Sharpe, a widow who’s husband was killed just before he told her a secret about Vermeer that would shake history. Mrs. Sharpe is a cold and fierce old lady but as the story proceeds she seems to warm to the children and in the end they are friends.

After long hard work the children finally recover the Lady and the thief is identified, though he dies of a heart attack before he is arrested. The thief’s identity becomes very notable especially as his identity is connected to a friend of Calder’s. It ends with the possibility that Petra could be related to Vermeer.


In Chasing Vermeer codes play a major role. One of these codes are Calder’s pentominoes. They play a major part in almost every single part of the story. Pentominoes are mathematical puzzles and in the back of the book published by Scholastic, there are insructions on how to make your own.

There is also the number twelve. Many of the surnames of the people involved are spelt with twelve letters. Both Calder and Petra turn twelve years old on the twelfth day of the twelfth month, Petra and Calder are in the sixth grade, and even the author’s name, Blue Balliett, is composed of twelve letters in total. There are many more “twelve” sequences in the book than are listed here. You just have to look for them carefully.

In the illustrations by Brett Helquist there are carefully hidden pentominoes. In almost all of the illustrations there are also frogs. Calder and Tommy also designed a code and it is shown in the book with a code translator.

Charles Fort

Chasing Vermeer features Charles Fort’s book Lo! and it is read by Petra and Calder, bringing many unexplained events to their interest and the reader’s, thus raising wonder and questions.


In 2006 a sequel was released entitled The Wright 3 and is illustrated by Brett Helquist as well. There is a rumour of a third book being in the works.


A film Chasing Vermeer is scheduled to be released either 2007 or 2008, based on the book by Blue Balliett. Other than the rough release date, nothing else yet is known. The rights were bought by Warner Brothers.

Read More

The Wright 3 (sequel)


Official website of Chasing Vermeer



1. person is awesome!!! - Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thanks! I’m reading Chasing Vermeer and I think it’s confusing which makes it hard to read, but I still like it a little bit. at least I tried!

Blue - Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Well, ignoring everyone else’s comment, I loved “Chasing Vermeer.”
Yes, it was confusing, but I’m doing this book for a book report.

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