The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett, illustrated by Brett Helquist (Scholastic Press, $16.99, 318 pages). Balliett made a big splash with her first children's novel, the critically acclaimed art mystery and best-seller "Chasing Vermeer."
Now this Chicago author turns to Frank Lloyd Wright for her second book, and she comes up with an original, intelligent and exciting mystery about three sixth graders and their teacher's battle to save the Robie House in Hyde Park, Ill., from being cut into pieces and sold to museums. (A note at the end separates fact from fiction, explaining that the Robie House is currently being renovated.)
Young supersleuths Calder and Petra were featured in the Vermeer book; now they are joined by Calder's old friend Tommy, who has moved back to the neighborhood with his single mom and his goldfish.
Balliett offers appealing characters and a realistic look at the friendship adjustment required when two friends are joined by a third. Her richly imaginative novel creates a vivid picture of Frank Lloyd Wright and an even more vivid portrait of the Robie House and its previous owners, exploring Wright's architecture and his interest in numbers and geometric shapes.
The multi-layered suspense story incorporates the mystery of Wright's design and messages he might have left encoded in the house with a more traditional mystery of burglars who are up to no good. "The Invisible Man" by H.G. Wells is part of the mystery, as is Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window."
This is a rare book that manages to tell a ripping good suspense yarn while teaching a lesson about architecture, art, historic preservation and number puzzles -- with curious kids and an enthusiastic teacher as the heroes.
Kids will be clamoring to buy sets of pentominoes (a math tool of 12 pieces), asking to visit Buffalo's Darwin Martin house, reading "The Invisible Man" and renting the video of "Rear Window" after reading this excellent, interesting novel. The black and white illustrations (along with the beautiful full-color drawing of the Robie House on the cover) are by Brett Helquist, who does the artwork for the Lemony Snicket series.
-- Jean Westmoore