The Calder Game
by Blue Balliett
illustrated by Brett Helquist
review copy compliments of the publisher
This is my favorite of the three art mystery books Blue Balliett has written (the others are Chasing Vermeer and The Wright 3) about Calder Pillay, Tommy Segovia, and Petra Andalee. I want the literature circle back that read Chasing Vermeer as their first book in fourth grade and The Wright 3 as soon as we could get multiple copies from the library when they were in fifth grade. They would love this book!
The Calder Game is packed, layered, and balanced with so many different elements. It is about art and the response to art. It is about balance, social class, finding patterns (especially of 5), symbols (ancient and modern), mythology, and language. Oh, the language! The ways Balliett finds to describe with words the way Alexander Calder's mobiles balance, turn, change, and affect the viewer. The word mobiles that the characters create -- five words that balance, turn, and change depending how you look at them (NO-MINOTAUR-ONLY-WISHES-HERE becomes NO-WISHES balancing along with MINOTAUR-HERE or maybe MINOTAUR-WISHES).
It's about how bad teaching kills a student's urge to learn and about how much trust good teaching requires. I didn't really believe that the three protagonists' teacher could go from such a bad teacher to such a good teacher, but the book is also about the power of art to change people, so okay, I'll believe it.
The book opens with a class field trip to an Alexander Calder exhibit of mobiles at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Then Calder Pillay is lucky enough to be able to accompany his father on a trip to Oxford, England. He and his father stay in the nearby town of Woodstock, which is near Blenheim Palace and a real hedge maze made of symbols. Lots for Calder to explore while his dad is at meetings. The biggest surprise awaits them, however -- a Calder sculpture in the courtyard in front of the bed and breakfast where they are staying. And then the theft of the sculpture. And then the disappearance of Calder Pillay. Tommy and Petra come with Mrs. Sharpe from Chicago to help find the boy Calder, but his fate is linked with the Calder sculpture, and all of the characters must shift and re-balance their relationships in order to solve the mystery.
Speaking of characters, the three kids meet a girl who is named after Georgia O'Keefe. Plans are made for her to visit Chicago and stay with Mrs. Sharpe. I'm certain we will be seeing more of her in Balliett's next book...which I am anxiously awaiting!
Shelf Elf has a review with some cool bonus links.
Bill, at Literate Lives, has a review with some cool Calder pictures.