Chasing Vermeer

Written By: Blue Balliett

Illustrated By: Brett Helquist


For parents of independent readers, we provide a set of questions that should give you insight into what your child is reading and help you engage him/her in meaningful conversations about literature. We recommend using the questions provided here as a springboard for deeper conversation about Chasing Vermeer and what your child takes away from the book. Enjoy!


Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay are just two normal students in Ms. Hussey’s sixth grade class until one day when an invaluable painting, “A Lady Writing” by Johannes Vermeer goes missing and they team up to recover the painting. In a mysterious letter sent to three townspeople, the thief states that the painting will only be returned if the public can determine which paintings were truly done by Vermeer. Petra and Calder grow closer as they work together to solve this mystery and through their investigation, they discover that the painting is being hidden in the local Delia Dell Hall. The thief turns out to be a known art thief by the name of Xavier Glitts, who had changed his name to Fred Steadman. Your child can join Petra and Calder on their journey to get to the bottom of the mystery of the missing painting!

Reading Questions

  1. In the beginning of the story, Ms. Hussey instructs her class to ask an adult about a letter that changed their life. We later discover that she is one of the three people who receives a mysterious letter from the painting thief. Complete this assignment yourself and ask an adult about the most life-changing piece of mail that they have received. Why was it so important to him/her?
  2. The school that Petra and Calder attend, the Laboratory School at the University of Chicago, is a real school that the author of this story, Blue Balliett, actually taught at while she was writing this book. Would you like to go to a school like this one? Why or why not? Fun fact: President Obama’s daughters attended this school when they lived in Chicago!
  3. The slogan “X the experts” begins to spread around the world in response to the thief’s letter that has been leaked. What does it mean?
  4. What was the thief’s motive for stealing the painting? Do you think that his actions were justified? Did any good come out of the theft?
  5. Throughout the story, Calder and Petra put a great deal of faith in coincidences and dreams. Name in an instance where Petra or Calder experiences a dream and believes that it is a sign. Do you think the events in the story were merely a coincidence? For example, do you think it was just a coincidence that Calder happens to be sent to deliver a letter to Mrs. Sharpe, the recipient of one of the thief’s letters?
  6. Petra and Calder weren’t friends in the beginning of the story but they bonded over the shared goal of solving this mystery. Which of the two do you relate to more? Why? What are their separate strengths and how do they work together to make a good team?
  7. Were you surprised by the ending of this story? Were you able to solve the mystery ahead of time?
  8. After reading this story, do you think of art differently? Why or why not?

Either before or after the story, we would also recommend visiting the Google Art Project (or a museum nearby, if you’re lucky!) to look closely at Vermeer’s paintings for yourself!