The art-loving trio of middle schoolers is at it again. In The Calder Game, Blue Balliett's latest art adventure, Calder Pillay, Petra Andalee and Tommy Segovia find themselves in England, on yet another exciting quest. Balliett has devised a best-selling formula that works—kids solving mysteries involving great works of art—but each time she varies the art form, so that each novel feels different. In Chasing Vermeer, Petra and Calder track down a stolen Vermeer painting, and in The Wright 3, Petra, Calder and Tommy try to save a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. All three novels are action-packed, but they are also information-packed, offering intriguing details about the art and artist, and challenging readers with intellectual questions and brain-teasing clues.
The Calder Game starts out with a field trip to the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art to see a collection of Alexander Calder mobiles. And here, in deft writing, Balliett makes Calder's art come alive through the eyes of her three seventh-grade characters. Petra muses as she looks at the mobiles: "Simple? Only at first glance. Complex? Clearly, the answer should be yes. This is art that changes people, Petra thought to herself, people of all ages. But how?" The three students will soon be changed greatly. Calder, who got his name because his parents admire the artist and his work, travels to Woodstock, England, with his dad, who is attending a conference. It just so happens that in this town a giant Calder sculpture has mysteriously appeared in the square. And Woodstock is the home of Blenheim Palace, which has a maze, so the stage is set for excitement. Calder has lots of free time to explore this new place while his dad attends meetings each day. Before long, the Calder sculpture disappears just as mysteriously as it appeared, and young Calder Pillay also goes missing. Petra and Tommy are summoned to England to try to help find him—along with the police, of course. The story moves swiftly, and along with the high-stakes drama, interesting questions are posed about the nature and appreciation of public art. The Calder Game is another wonderful effort from Blue Balliett, one that I wish had been around when I was a kid.
Alice Cary writes from Groton, Massachusetts.