Programs & News | Contact Us | For Readers | Fiction | Kids & Teens | Reference & Nonfiction | Movies & Music | Downloadable Books
Hours & Locations | Friends | Foundation | Gift Shop | A to Z Index
Many of us have passions that started in childhood sometimes I think we are who we are right from the beginning. I was a watcher. I loved disappearing into books. I wanted to be a writer by the time I was eight; as a kid, I played with words in my head, turning them this way and that as if they had color and sparkle. The puzzle was always to allow words to shine singly yet also fit together in combinations that felt just right. Im still working on it.
I was born and grew up in New York City, in a long, thin apartment near Mt. Sinai Hospital. My name has always been Blue, although its Elizabeth on my birth certificate. My sister and brother and I played ball, rode bikes and roller-skated on the street. I took two public buses to get to school. As a teenager, I discovered that you could hang out with friends at museums like the Metropolitan, the Frick or the Guggenheim, which were then just about free for kids, instead of going right home after school. Thats how I became so comfortable around art, and got to know two of my favorite artists -- Johannes Vermeer and Alexander Calder. Sometimes I think my books go back a long, long way.
I graduated with an art history degree from Brown University. I then spent years writing poetry and making word mobiles (more playing with words!); I also waitressed, became a not-great grill cook, ran an art gallery, and researched old houses. By then Id lived in many drafty rentals on Nantucket Island, having fallen under the spell of this tiny communitys foggy, cobblestoned world. I heard some stories about ghosts. I listened and took notes. Eventually, those stories became the book Nantucket Ghosts.
We have a big and busy family,
and always at least one bossy cat. I met my husband Bill Klein
on Nantucket, and we lived there for a number of years with our
three kids. Bill was the director of the islands planning
commission, and built our homemade house on weekends. Then we
moved to Chicago, to the Hyde Park neighborhood where we still
live. I taught at The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools
for ten years, and the kids and I walked to school together every
day. I wrote my first mystery, Chasing Vermeer, as a classroom
teacher. Then came The Wright 3, The Calder Game, and
The Danger Box. All of my books are set in places Ive
lived in or visited, and lots of our family discoveries and secrets
are tucked inside them. These mysteries are fiction, but also
not theyre filled with details from my everyday world.
My husband Bill has played a big part in the making of these books. In addition to helping me set aside writing time when I was too busy to do it, hes taken almost every photograph you see on my website and many that Brett Helquist used in his illustrations. Bills current job at the American Planning Association is a busy one, but he keeps me company on the road whenever possible. And our kids, who were almost grown up when Chasing Vermeer was published, keep track of us and come home lots, which is perfect.
Although I loved classroom teaching, Im a full-time writer these days. I work at home, in my laundry room, and can look out a narrow window at an old pine tree and an apartment building. This is a place where my mind becomes very quiet I try to turn off my phone and e-mail.
Here are some of the real-world ideas I like to think about, ideas that have gone into my books:
I love to hand over big, controversial ideas to kids ideas that might make a person of any age stop and wonder. All kids can be amazing problem-solvers and powerful thinkers, no matter what they are good at doing or whether theyre successful in school. That belief is at the heart of everything that I write.
Words, for me, are about beginnings. I love to ask myself, What if? and Why not? Im happy when kids tell me that my books fill them with those same questions and make them feel as though the familiar world is packed with mystery and possibility, and that theres lots to be said and done. That, for me, is what its all about.
When I hear that from a reader, I know Im close to making words feel right.
1. The Laboratory School at the University of Chicago is a real school where the author, Blue Balliett, taught while writing Chasing Vermeer. Would you like to go to school at a school like the Laboratory School. Have you had a teacher like Ms. Hussey? Would you like to have a teacher like her?
2. Petra and Calder are assigned to ask an adult about a letter they will never forget, a piece of mail that changed their life. Have you ever received a piece of mail you will never forget? Ask an adult if they have.
3. What do you think makes an object a piece of art? Do you have anything at home you consider to be a piece of art?
4. Calder is an only child and Petra has several siblings. How does this difference make their home lives different? Do you have siblings? Would you rather be an only child or have many siblings?
5. Do you know anyone like Mrs. Sharpe?
6. Calder and Petra put a lot of faith in coincidences and dreams. Do you think truth can be found in dreams and coincidences, or are they just coincidences?
7. What would you have done if you received a letter like the three that were mailed out?
8. Do you think the painting was stolen for a good reason? Is it possible to do something which seems wrong, (or even against the law,) for a positive outcome?
9. Were you able to decipher the message in the illustrations?
10. Would you be as brave as Calder and Petra in searching for the painting?
11. How does the author weave in various clues that seem disconnected yet related to solving the mystery?
12. How does the author use mathematics in a book about art and deception?
13. Why does the code that Calder and Tommy use work as part of a mathematical scheme?
14. What kind of relationship do Calder and Petra have?
15. Why is this more a story of action rather than one of character and relationships?
16. How does the concept of coincidental occurrences drive the mystery?
17. Which, if any, coincidences seemed to contrived for the story to be effective? What loopholes were left unanswered?
18. What is the significance of the frog in the story?
19. What does the author mean by the puzzle's answer, "The Lady Lives"?
20. Imagine you're one of the three characters to receive the mysterious letter. How would you respond to the letter? Would you keep the secret? Explain.
21. Answer a question similar to Ms. Hussey's: What's the most important piece of mail (or email) you've ever received? How did you respond?
22. Ms. Hussey asks the students the question, "What is art?" What do you think art is? Does it have to be tangible? Can anyone create it?
23. Calder and Petra become great observers of patterns in the real world. What patterns do you see? Think about buildings, nature, your schedule, your behavior
24. Calder has a special box with a Vermeer painting on it. If you had a special box, what would you keep inside it? Why?
25. Petra creates a Halloween costume of the lady in the painting. What's the most creative Halloween costume you can imagine?
26. Calder and Petra create a special ritual of eating a blue M&M every time they take the next step in solving the mystery. What rituals do you have for when you accomplish a task? For example, how do you celebrate a good grade on a test? If you have no special rituals, what could you begin doing?
27. Towards the end of the novel, Calder and Petra get separated while saving the painting. If you were Petra, would you have left Calder on the slide? If you would stay, how would you save the painting? If you would leave, would you have made the same choices as Petra?
28. Throughout the story we see Calder and Petra unable to trust the adults in their lives with the mystery they must solve. Have you ever felt like you needed an adult's help but couldn't get it? How did you solve your problem?
29. In many scenes of the story we see Calder and Petra spending time with an elderly member of their community. Is there an elderly person in your life? What do you do with them and what have you learned from spending time together?
Reproduced with permission
from Multnomah County Library,
from Reading Raps by Rita Soltan. Libraries Unlimited, 2006
and from Scholastic Inc.