Chasing Vermeer


Blue Balliett

Number of Pages: 


Minimum grade level: 


Someone has stolen an extremely valuable painting by a man named Jan Vermeer. It's called A Lady Writing, and it was painted in 1665. Someone has sent a mysterious letter to three residents of the Chicago neighborhood called Hyde Park. The letter asks for help in "identifying a crime that is now centuries old." But, if the recipients show the letter to the police, they will "most certainly be placing their lives in danger." Calder Pillay and Petra Andalee live in Hyde Park. They are sixth graders at a place called the Laboratory School. They are smart and curious, but also a little odd. By accident, they learn about the letters, and a short time later, they hear that the Vermeer painting has been stolen. Do they think the two events are related? You bet!

Clues in the book's illustrations reveal a hidden message. Can you decipher the clues in time? Join Calder and Petra on their quest to solve the mystery of the stolen painting. A quest that takes them deep into the dusty basement of their school, to the mysterious house of a cranky old lady, and through the dark, deserted corridors of the turreted and gargoyled classroom building called Delia Dell.

Discussion questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. The Laboratory School at the University of Chicago is a real school where the author, Blue Balliett, taught while writing Chasing Vermeer. Would you like to go to school at a school like the Laboratory School? Have you had a teacher like Ms. Hussey? Would you like to have a teacher like her?
  2. Petra and Calder are assigned to ask an adult about a letter they will never forget, a piece of mail that changed their life. Have you ever received a piece of mail you will never forget? Ask an adult if they have.
  3. What do you think makes an object a piece of art? Do you have anything at home you consider to be a piece of art?
  4. Calder is an only child and Petra has several siblings. How does this difference make their home lives different? Do you have siblings? Would you rather be an only child or have many siblings?
  5. Do you know anyone like Mrs. Sharpe?
  6. Calder and Petra put a lot of faith in coincidences and dreams. Do you think truth can be found in dreams and coincidences, or are they just coincidences?
  7. What would you have done if you received a letter like the three that were mailed out?
  8. Do you think the painting was stolen for a good reason? Is it possible to do something which seems wrong, (or even against the law,) for a positive outcome?
  9. Were you able to decipher the message in the illustrations
  10. Would you be as brave as Calder and Petra in searching for the painting?

If you liked this book, try

  • From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
  • Sammy Keyes and the Art of Deception by Wendelin Van Draanen
  • Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach
  • Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing by Paul Janeczko
  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
  • The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett


M&Ms, especially blue ones

Created in part with funds granted by the Oregon State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.