Balliett, Blue 1955-
Balliett, Blue 1955-
ADDRESSES: Home—Chicago, IL. Agent—Amanda Lewis, Doe Coover Agency, P.O. Box 668, Winchester, MA 01890.
CAREER: Writer and educator. University of Chicago Laboratory School, Chicago, IL, third-grade teacher, c. 1980-91; freelance writer. Previously worked as a grill cook, waitress, researcher of old houses, and art gallery director.
AWARDS, HONORS: Mary Williams Professional Development Award; Chicago Tribune Prize for Young Adult Fiction, 2004, for Chasing Vermeer.
The Ghosts of Nantucket: Twenty-three True Accounts, Down East Books (Camden, ME), 1984.
Nantucket Hauntings, Down East Books (Camden, ME), 1990.
Chasing Vermeer (children’s mystery), Scholastic Press(New York NY) 2003.
The Wright 3 (children’s mystery), illustrated by Brett Helquist, Scholastic Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Nantucket Ghosts: 44 True Hauntings, Down East Books (Camden, ME), 2006.
SIDELIGHTS: Blue Balliett is the author of Chasing Vermeer, a children’s mystery novel about two sixth-graders who attempt to solve the mystery of a missing painting. Friends and fellow middle-school students Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay share a common interest in unexplained phenomena. Therefore, when it appears that some of seventeenth-century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer’s paintings may have actually been painted by someone else, the pair is quickly united in their search for the answer. The plot thickens when one of Vermeer’s famous paintings mysteriously disappears while being transported from the National Gallery to Chicago’s Art Institute, leaving the budding sleuths following a trail of clues that leads to their very own Chicago neighborhood.
In a review of Chasing Vermeer in School Library Journal, Marie Orlando praised Balliett’s debut children’s book, noting: “Puzzles, codes, letters, number and wordplay, a bit of danger, a vivid sense of place, and a wealth of quirky characters” help make the book an “exciting, fast-paced story that’s sure to be relished by mystery lovers.” A Publishers Weekly contributor also enjoyed the book, stating that the author’s “ingeniously plotted and lightly delivered first novel … also touches on the nature of coincidence, truth, art and similarly meaty topics.”
Balliett spent five years researching Chasing Vermeer, and she drew much of her inspiration from her ten-yearlong career teaching third graders, as well as from her own lifelong love of fine art. She was also inspired by her love of codes, enigmas, and the patterns found in life, all of which, Balliett contends, young people almost instinctively grasp. As she explained to a Publishers Weekly interviewer, children “have an ability to see connections and to put the world together in so much more of an elastic and fluid way than adults.” Scattered throughout the text, along with the puzzles, wordplay, and other mind benders, are enough misleading clues to keep readers interested, noted Orlando, comparing Chasing Vermeer to novels by popular juvenile fiction writers Ellen Raskin and E.L. Konigsburg.
Balliet followed up Chasing Vermeer with The Wright 3, another children’s mystery featuring Calder and Petra. Also on hand this time is Tommy Segovia, Calder’s former best friend who corresponded with him in the previous book. “The book is called The Wright 3 partly because a lot of the action takes place in and around Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘Robie House,’ which is right near the school,” the author noted on the Scholastic Web site. In this adventure, the mystery features the proposed destruction of a Wright house and the efforts by Petra, Calder, and Tommy to uncover some of the secrets that the house hides and that, in the end, may save it. Jennifer Mattson, writing in Booklist, commented that “fans will grab hold of the true-to-life friendship issues Balliett introduces.” School Library Journal contributor Caitlin Augusta wrote that “the mystery itself and the perfectly realized setting make this an essential purchase.”
Balliet also followed up on her early books of ghost stories—The Ghosts of Nantucket: Twenty-three True Accounts and Nantucket Hauntings—with Nantucket Ghosts: 44 True Hauntings. The book essentially combines the two previous books into one volume of stories that Library Journal contributor Michael Rogers called “interesting reading.”
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlantic Monthly, September, 1984, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of The Ghosts of Nantucket: Twenty-three True Accounts, p. 128.
Booklist, April 1, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Chasing Vermeer, p. 1365; May 1, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Chasing Vermeer, p. 1496; February 1, 2006, Jennifer Mattson, review of The Wright 3, p. 47.
Children’s Bookwatch, October, 2006, review of The Wright 3.
Horn Book, July-August, 2004, Peter D. Sieruta, review of Chasing Vermeer, p. 446; March-April, 2006, Roger Sutton, review of The Wright 3, p. 179.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2004, review of Chasing Vermeer, p. 487; March 15, 2006, review of The Wright 3, p. 286.
Library Journal, June 1, 2006, Michael Rogers, review of Nantucket Ghosts: 44 True Hauntings, p. 172.
Publishers Weekly, June 14, 2004, review of Chasing Vermeer, p. 63; June 28, 2004, “Flying Starts,” interview with author, p. 19; February 27, 2006, review of The Wright 3, p. 61.
School Library Journal, July, 2004, Marie Orlando, review of Chasing Vermeer, p. 98; April, 2006, Caitlin Augusta, review of The Wright 3, p. 133.
Washington Post, April 11, 2006, review of The Wright 3, p. C12.
BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (January 5, 2005), Linda M. Castellitto, “Mystery at the Museum,” interview with Balliett.
Scholastic Web site,http://www2.scholastic.com/ (November 8, 2005), “Moderated Author Chat”;(July 31, 2005), biography of author.
Write News,http://www.writenews.com/ (July 23, 2004), “Blue Balliett Awarded 2004 Chicago Tribune Prize.”*