Friday, June 13, 2008

Mazes, mobiles and mysteries

Calder Pillay and his two best friends, Petra and Tommy, are having a terrible time with their new teacher, who is as far from their inspiring and beloved teacher from the previous year as it is possible to be. She takes away Calder's pentominoes, calling them a "toy," (most insulting), and refuses to let anyone draw or write anything when they take a field trip to a museum (which makes Petra perfectly miserable). But even their teacher's negativity can't take away from the friends' joy and enthusiasm when they visit the Calder exhibit and see all the amazing mobiles and sculptures. Calder, who was named after the artist, finds a room where people can design their own mobiles - but the teacher won't even let them do that - instead, she insists on taking them all to the gift shop.

When Calder's father takes a business trip to England, he decides to take Calder with him. They stay in the remote village of Woodstock - where they are astonished to find a sculpture by Calder in the town square, a recent anonymous donation. The townspeople aren't fond of the modern style of the artwork, and there is quite a bit of contention in the village. Calder loves the sculpture, however, as well as the whole experience of being in England. He explores during the day while his father takes care of business - but one afternoon, when his father returns, he finds that both the Calder statue as well as the Calder child have disappeared.

Petra and Tommy come to England along with the clever, elderly Mrs. Sharpe. Although they have little in common but their friendship with Calder, they determine to work through the friction between them and team up to find their friend. As in the the previous two books in the series, there is a fascinating interplay of patterns, numbers and shapes that keep the characters - and the reader - thinking and exploring throughout the course of the novel. The illustrations also offer a secret message to observant eyes, which also adds to the fun.

While the first two books were mysteries, this one was not. The two friends try to solve the mystery of Calder's disappearance, but they really don't; nor does Calder rescue himself. I found that a tad disappointing - I felt as if the patterns and clues and hints were, to some extent, red herrings, and that the stroke of luck that saved the day undermined the power of the novel to some extent. I would have rather seen Petra and Tommy's commitment to finding Calder pay off in a more explicit way. Still, that is a small quibble, and I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. I particularly liked the interplay between Petra and Tommy as they sought to find common ground in the absence of Calder, to resolve the tension between them that had been building since the beginning of the previous book. This is an excellent series, and I certainly hope there will be more to come.

My kids are still a bit young for these books, but I know they will enjoy them in a year or two, particularly this one because they are big fans of this Calder mobile from our local museum:

Books in the Calder Pillay series:
1. Chasing Vermeer
2. The Wright 3
3. The Calder Game

The Calder Game by Blue Balliett (Scholastic Press, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Help Readers Love Reading
Shelf Elf
Year of Reading


  1. I'm really anxious to read this one! I loved Chasing Vermeer! And I enjoyed The Wright 3, but not nearly as much as the first book...part of it I think is that I just haven't quite warmed up to Tommy. I'll be happy to see it, if Tommy and Petra can learn to co-exist a little better.

  2. I think you will enjoy this one - Tommy begins to get a clue and find his own strengths - although Petra is still my favorite! :-)


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