After recovering a priceless painting in Chasing Vermeer, there's no rest for sixth-grade sleuths Calder and Petra when their free-thinking teacher tells their class that Frank Lloyd Wright's 1910 Robie House is about to be severed into pieces and distributed to museums around the globe. In Blue Balliett's The Wright 3, Calder and Petra are joined by Calder's old friend, Tommy, who has just moved back to their Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago. Once again the author introduces children to the world of artistic masterpieces and allows them to consider the meaning of art.
In a framework that combines ghost stories, mystery and adventure, art becomes exciting. As the precocious tweens fight to save the Robie House, they also try to unlock its secrets, including the ghostly shapes that pass by the windows, the messages it seems to emit and Wright's hidden image. Helping them along the way are Calder's pentominoes (this time in 3-D), Petra's notebook and Tommy's treasure-finding skills, as well as Fibonacci numbers, passages from H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man, keen observation reminiscent of Hitchcock's Rear Window and coincidences galore. Illustrator Brett Helquist once again adds nuance to the text and provides clues in his appealing artwork.
Balliett offers another layer to the novel, realistically depicting middle-school friendships and rivalries. Calder finds himself caught between his two best friends, as the trio must decide whether three heads are better than two or if three's a crowd. Recognizing one another's talents and learning to trust helps solidify the Wright 3's bond.
The author's Wright stuff surpasses her award-winning first novel, leaving readers to hope that Balliett, who lives within walking distance of the Robie House, will soon seek out yet another artistic treasure and lead us into its mystery.
Angela Leeper is an educational consultant, freelance writer and art lover in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Copyright 2006 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2006 Fall
Calder and Petra ([cf2]Chasing Vermeer[cf1]) and Calder's best friend Tommy (who's back in Chicago's Hyde Park) have to use their luck, pluck, and pentominoes to save Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, threatened with dismantlement and dispersion to museums. The writing and characters are bright as buttons, and what the plot lacks in development is compensated for by its unflagging energy. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2006 #2
Calder and Petra, the lateral thinkers par excellence from Chasing Vermeer (rev. 7/04), return, joined this time by Calder's best friend Tommy, back in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago after a year away. While the duo-becomes-a-trio adds a new emotional tension, the story is essentially the same: the kids have to use their luck, pluck, and pentominoes to save an irreplaceable piece of culture -- in this case, Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, which is threatened with dismantlement and dispersion to museums around the world. The author clearly knows and loves Hyde Park, and her story is a tribute not only to Wright's masterpiece (think 3-D pentominoes) but to the adventures to be had in any city neighborhood -- as well as within an inquisitive mind. As with Vermeer, the plot is haphazard and unsuspenseful, with fleeting moments of magical realism conspiring with "coincidence" to move the story to its conclusion. But the writing and characters are bright as buttons, and what the plot lacks in development is compensated for by its unflagging energy. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2006 March #2
The determined sleuths from Balliett's fine first novel, Chasing Vermeer (2004), return in another artful mystery, centered on one of Chicago's architectural treasures. As sixth grade wanes, the vibrant Ms. Hussey reveals heartbreaking news: Because of the extraordinary costs of maintenance and repair, Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, a city icon since 1910, will be dismantled in sections and donated to four museums. While the class's spirited campaign to save the building ends with the school year, the passionately curious Petra and Calder press on, abetted by Calder's good friend Tommy, just back from a traumatic year away. The shifting third-person narrative effectively captures the children's tense struggle to transform from duo to trio, and transmits their shared delight in puzzling, excavating and thinking deeply, creating a similarly heightened alertness in the reader. The "Wright 3" take increasingly bold risks to recover a stolen, priceless jade fish (Wright's own lost talisman) and save the Robie House. Many of the elements that made Chasing Vermeer such a success reappear here, from the culturally rich setting, to Calder's pentominoes (now three-dimensional), to Helquist's intriguing illustrations (not seen in their final state). Another tour de force blending art, math, philosophy, history and literature. (author's note) (Fiction. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection - October 2006
Author Blue Balliett has crafted another art mystery, this time incorporating a work of architecture in the Chicago suburbs-the Robie House built in 1910 by Frank Lloyd Wright. When their teacher reads the newspaper article outlining plans to destroy the house, Tommy, Calder, and Petra become attracted to the house and begin their investigations. They must find a way to prove that the house is a work of art and deserves to be preserved. Odd things happen: a worker is shaken off the roof, Tommy finds a jade fish on the property, shadowy figures are seen inside, and the windows seem to twinkle. Some even think ghosts inhabit the house. Calder uses his 3-D pentominoes to look for clues. When the children begin to work together, they gather information that is used to prevent the building from its scheduled demolition. The class demonstrates at the house, vividly illustrating the horribleness of destroying a work of art. Readers familiar with Balliett's Chasing Vermeer (Scholastic, Inc., 2004) will have additional background about the characters and the importance of the pentominoes. This book can lead to further research of the Fibonacci sequence and pentominoes, as well as the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. Recommended. Daniel R. Beach, Teaching Librarian Media Specialist, Concord Elementary School, Anderson, South Carolina © 2006 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2006 February #4
Unlike the set-up in Balliett's Chasing Vermeer , no crime has been committed--yet--when Petra, Calder and Tommy begin the final weeks of sixth grade in the University of Chicago's Laboratory School. But the class does wonder if it's "murder" for the university to demolish a 1910 Frank Lloyd Wright house it owns, and sell off the pieces to different museums (an author's note reports that the real Robie House was almost demolished twice, and that pieces of Wright houses reside in museums the world over). Those who enjoyed the first adventure will be quickly drawn in once more by the charmingly subversive Ms. Hussey who, with her students, hatches a plan to preserve the building. They decide to cut up posters of fine art in front of the house, to demonstrate that, as Petra puts it, "cutting it up would be the same thing as cutting up a priceless painting." The project morphs into an obsession for "the Wright 3": Petra suspects a mysterious stranger is linked to subterfuge surrounding the house; Calder notices that the home is like a giant-size version of his set of pentominoes, and Tommy unearths an ancient jade fish on the grounds that may have been Wright's lost talisman. The blue M&Ms from the first book have been replaced by red gummy "herrings," but other ingredients remain--a sophisticated subject spiced by puzzles, codes and a soupçon of danger--as the titular trio works to stop the wrecking ball from swinging. Ages 8-12. (Apr.)[Page 61]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
This third book in DuPrau's series is billed as a prequel to the first two (The City of Ember and The People of Sparks ), but the connection is tenuous. Eleven-year-old Nickie Randolph wants "to do something helpful for the world," which is on the brink of war. Fear of terrorist activity is wreaking havoc in American cities. Against this backdrop, Nickie and her aunt travel from Philadelphia to Yonwood, in the North Carolina mountains, to prepare Nickie's great-grandfather's home for sale. Yonwood is a tense, parochial town, where the fevered ramblings of an older woman have been seized upon as "visions," and the woman hailed as a prophet. Local busybody Brenda Beeson, whose mantra is "one moldy strawberry can ruin the whole basket," zealously takes charge, interpreting the Prophet's messages and building a "shield of goodness" against impending evil. DuPrau scatters the text with intriguing elements--clues hidden in postcards, mysterious writings about "eleven dimensions" found in a journal--but they function more as entertaining distractions rather than to advance the story. DuPrau unfortunately undercuts the novel's more serious themes--the nature of goodness, and of God--with a manipulative, rather nonsensical denouement. But while the plot never fully ignites, the smooth writing will carry fans of the first two books along, and there's ample room (50 years) between this book and Ember for yet another prequel. Ages 8-12. (Apr.)[Page 74]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Gr 5-8 -With her distinct style, Balliett returns to Chicago and the detective work of Calder and Petra, sixth graders at the University School. This time they are joined by Tommy, Calder's former best friend who had moved away for a year. In this architectural mystery, destruction threatens Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, and the Wright 3, as the protagonists call themselves, piece together the puzzle that will lead to the building's rescue. While friction initially mars the three-sided friendship, Petra, Calder, and Tommy soon appreciate their individual roles in solving the mystery. Egged on by their unconventional teacher, the Wright 3 utilize Calder's geometric brain, Petra's writing and observing skills, and Tommy's uncanny findings to research and investigate the cryptic messages that Robie House seems to send in its own defense. Balliett elegantly wraps factual information on the building into a dreamy, Debussy sort of mystery in which seemingly random connections in everyday life uncover the hidden enigmas of Robie House and Wright himself. Balliett's atmospheric writing encourages readers to make their own journeys of discovery into art and architecture, creating a mystery subgenre that is as unique as it is compelling. While the book is not perfect-the final chapters jerk rather than flow, and the Wright 3's transition from awkward tolerance to a tightly knit cadre is nothing out of the ordinary-the mystery itself and the perfectly realized setting make this an essential purchase.-Caitlin Augusta, The Darien Library, CT[Page 133]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.