March 25, 2007

The Wright 3 - by Blue Balliett

Pentominoes, an Alfred Hitchcock movie, legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright's pocket talisman, three friends who don't all get along, and a beautiful turn-of-the-century house that's about to be destroyed. Odd as it may sound, this combination of diverse elements adds up to one of the best mysteries I've ever read. Does it sound a bit confusing? That's because it is, and this book is not for the faint of heart or lazy of mind.

The Wright 3 picks up where Mrs. Balliett's novel Chasing Vermeer left off, with two bright yet quirky students, Calder and Petra. He is a mathematical thinker who carries a set of pentominoes (5-cube shapes) with him to help him think, and she is a true bookworm, a font of knowledge. In this second book, they join with Calder's childhood friend Tommy to solve the mystery behind a historical house in their neighborhood, Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House.
This is a challenging mystery, full of architectural facts and all sorts of puzzles the reader can help the characters solve. Before long, the reader will feel just as passionate about saving the house as the children do, and will cheer when they reach the end. It is a story not only about friends solving a mystery, but about the importance of preserving bits of our history, and about the ways in which teamwork can help to accomplish wonderful things. I would recommend the book to thoughtful, capable readers in 4th grade and above, but this is also a great book for adults.

I have to add, one of my favorite things about this book is the quality of the illustrations by the illustrious (famous for illustrating A Series of Unfortunate Events) artist Brett Helquist. The sketches are not only beautiful and perfectly done, but they give clues to help solve the mystery.