The Artist's Muse Art Blog
The Calder Game -- Not Just for Kids
It's a mystery...How could a children's book could be so compelling? Perhaps it speaks to kid in all of us who, no matter how we dress ourselves up, still lives. Now and then a great mystery gets written and it is just plain enjoyable. No sex, no nudity, no romance, just simple code encrypting, mayhem and suspense. Author Blue Balliett is on to something. Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3 and The Calder Game give the ten to twelve-year-old set an inside track on the art world, while speaking the language of intrigue. The characters, three emerging sleuths, are empowered by the adults in their lives (most of the time) to help solve different art thefts.
Balliett is a third grade teacher in Chicago and is clearly informed by her work regarding kids and art education. Convincing dialogue, descriptive writing and delightful characters all make for an inspiring read. Balliett knows child-speak and reveals the inner thoughts of the characters that describe some universal frustrations of that age. The author creates a magical tale with no shortage of sophisticated vocabulary and even inserts a glossary in the back of the book which separates fact from fiction (one of my favorite aspects). This frees the author to use artistic license in creating the plot and crafting the details of the story and at the same time does not misrepresent factual information. For example, Balliett reveals that the stolen Minotaur sculpture in the story is a compilation of several large sculptures created by Alexander Calder in the 1950s. She also discerns between fictional characters and those based on real people whom she has met in her travels. According to Publishers Weekly the book is a "smart playful story that never stops challenging and exhilarating the audience." I have to agree. At the end of the story Balliett reveals the last name of a mysterious character, a young girl that potentially sets up the next story. Her name is Georgia O'Keefe.
I took The Calder Game to bed with me for several weeks and each night I looked forward to the next chapter. Would the missing character, Calder Pillay re-appear? Would the location of the large sculpture that was stolen from the town square in the remote English village be discovered? What secret would be revealed? The book illustrates the fact that artists do not need to be fully engaged in creating to enjoy art. A mystery can be inspiring way to end the day, a way to engage the child-like spirit that we can then bring to our easel. And the large print doesn't hurt either.