After recovering a priceless painting in Chasing Vermeer, there’s no rest for sixth-grade sleuths Calder and Petra when their free-thinking teacher tells their class that Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1910 Robie House is about to be severed into pieces and distributed to museums around the globe. In Blue Balliett’s The Wright 3, Calder and Petra are joined by Calder’s old friend, Tommy, who has just moved back to their Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago. Once again the author introduces children to the world of artistic masterpieces and allows them to consider the meaning of art.
In a framework that combines ghost stories, mystery and adventure, art becomes exciting. As the precocious tweens fight to save the Robie House, they also try to unlock its secrets, including the ghostly shapes that pass by the windows, the messages it seems to emit and Wright’s hidden image. Helping them along the way are Calder’s pentominoes (this time in 3-D), Petra’s notebook and Tommy’s treasure-finding skills, as well as Fibonacci numbers, passages from H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, keen observation reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Rear Window and coincidences galore. Illustrator Brett Helquist once again adds nuance to the text and provides clues in his appealing artwork.
Balliett offers another layer to the novel, realistically depicting middle-school friendships and rivalries. Calder finds himself caught between his two best friends, as the trio must decide whether three heads are better than two or if three’s a crowd. Recognizing one another’s talents and learning to trust helps solidify the Wright 3’s bond.
The author’s Wright stuff surpasses her award-winning first novel, leaving readers to hope that Balliett, who lives within walking distance of the Robie House, will soon seek out yet another artistic treasure and lead us into its mystery. Angela Leeper is an educational consultant, freelance writer and art lover in Wake Forest, North Carolina.