Choosing books for middle readers can be challenging, no matter what their “reading personality” is. We know that reluctant middle readers are tough because they just don’t give many books a chance, and it can be hard to find something that truly hooks them. But voracious middle readers are sometimes even tougher; we want to keep them challenged, but we feel justifiably wary about letting them venture into young adult territory. Is there such a thing as a book that’s exciting enough to hook a reluctant reader, but challenging enough for an advanced reader?
We believe there is!
Not just one book, but several, and all written by the same author. Blue Balliett is best known for her award-winning middle grade book Chasing Vermeer, though it is only the first of many compelling novels. Her books, although not quite a series, all involve the same group of friends who find themselves wrapped up in the middle of complex art mysteries involving artists such as Johannes Vermeer, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Alexander Calder. Who knew that art could be so exciting—and sometimes dangerous?
We could go on for ages about why we love Balliett’s books, but here’s the short version: they’re exciting, they’re suspenseful, and they’re extremely well-written. Each story is expertly layered, like a puzzle that the reader has to solve alongside Petra, Calder, and their friends. And while the names Vermeer, Wright, and Calder might be meaningless to your readers now, by the end of the book they’ll not only be able to tell you all about them—they’ll probably want to know even more!
If you’re looking for an engaging read for your middle reader, Balliett’s books might be for you. Check out some of her books below, or come on in to blue manatee and see them yourself!
When a book of unexplainable occurrences brings Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay together, strange things start to happen: seemingly unrelated events connect, an eccentric old woman seeks their company, and an invaluable Vermeer painting disappears. Before they know it, the two find themselves at the center of an international art scandal, where no one — neighbors, parents, teachers — is spared from suspicion. As Petra and Calder are drawn clue by clue into a mysterious labyrinth, they must draw on their powers of intuition, their problem-solving skills, and their knowledge of Vermeer. Can they decipher a crime that has left even the FBI baffled?
Supersleuths Petra and Calder, along with Calder’s old friend Tommy, are cryptically drawn into another art mystery—this time involving a Frank Lloyd Wright architectural masterpiece, the Robie House. But when a well-meaning classroom art project turns into a frightening search for ghosts, hidden treasure, and a coded message left behind by Wright, the three find themselves in a tangled web where life and art intermingle with death and danger. Can the kids pursue justice and escape with their lives?
When Calder Pillay travels with his father to a remote village in England, he finds a mix of mazes and mystery—including an unexpected Alexander Calder sculpture in the town square. Both the boy and the sculpture seem to be out of place… and then, on the same night, both disappear! Petra and Tommy must fly to England and help Calder’s father find him. But this mystery has more twists and turns than a Calder mobile caught in a fierce wind—with more at stake than first meets the eye. Can you figure out what has happened faster than the others while there is still time?
Where is Early’s father? He’s not the kind of father who you think would disappear. But he’s gone. And he’s left a whole lot of trouble behind. It’s not enough that Early can’t find out what’s happened to him. His vanishing leads to Early and her mom and her brother being kicked out of their apartment. Having nowhere else to go, they move into Chicago’s shelter system. And from there, Early must start getting answers to her questions. Because Early’s father hasn’t disappeared without a trace. There ARE traces. And Early’s going to use them to track her father down… and make her way out of a very tough place.
Zoomy might be legally blind, but he notices plenty, and he thinks all the time. So when his no-good father Buckeye shows up in Three Oaks driving a stolen truck and looking to hide a stolen box, Zoomy is worried that this unknown, unfamiliar man might ruin the comfortable, safe, predictable world his grandparents have built for him. Buckeye’s secret does change things for Zoomy, but maybe not in the way anyone guesses. What’s inside is a mystery, a book of clues that leads Zoomy to the library and to his very first friend, Lorrol, a girl with whom he has a lot in common. Lorrol loves solving problems, too, and together they try to get to the bottom of a bunch of mysteries in Three Oaks that have to do with history, science, and secrets that can change the world.
Calder, Petra, and Tommy are no strangers to heists and puzzles. Thirteen extremely valuable pieces of art have been stolen from one of the most secretive museums in the world. A Vermeer has vanished. A Manet is missing. And nobody has any idea where they and the other eleven artworks might be… or who might have stolen them. Now the three friends have been matched with two new sleuths—Zoomy, a very small boy with very thick glasses, and Early, a girl who treasures words… and has a word or two to say about the missing treasure. Add to the mix the mysterious Mrs. Sharpe, a ghost who mingles with the guards in the museum, a cat who acts like a spy, and bystanders in black jackets who keep popping up, and this just might be the most puzzling mystery yet.