I had a long list of books to read this week and not much time. I am reading for my writing and my garden but mid week my library hold came in – one I had forgotten about. I quickly stopped by the library to pick up the books and headed home. The stack of books bouncing along in the back seat all fell to the floor except for one. There in the middle of the seat sat Pieces and Players.
I have been a sucker for Blue Balliett’s books since the first one came out in 2004. She puts together two of the topics I love art and mystery. I can’t resist a good puzzle and a puzzle about art – even better. There calling to me in the back seat was an art mystery.
Although I tried during the day to read only what I needed for “work” I found Pieces and Players calling to me. It was as if the story was wanting to jump off of the pages at me. It was waiting to be read and explored.
I have heard from some younger readers they are not as thrilled with her stories as I. She includes lots of references to real places, real art and real people. I think to enjoy and engage in her books students might need the support of a good read (a teacher or parent) who can help them connect to the history she tucks into her stories.
This story pulled together the characters from her other books to work together to solve the art heist in a small Chicago museum, call the Farmer Museum. The fact is the small museum is based on the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum, in Boston, and the unsolved art heist that took place in 1990. If you know the back ground of that art heist it makes this story a bit more fun. You don’t have to know it but the real life connections make it a bit more interesting.
Balliett keeps the mystery going until the last few pages. She easily includes quotes from art books and plays with the old Mother Goose rhyme’s as a way to build puzzles and clues to be figured out by our team of 5.
As a teacher this book is ripe for a read aloud. The connections that you can make for learning are wonderful. There is a chance to share a few great art pieces with a classroom – using questioning to explore what they notice. (If you are familiar with VTS- Visual Thinking Strategies it would be perfect for this learning.) There are the Mother Goose rhyme’s that are not known to many young readers these day. What a perfect fit for rhyme’s and poems. The 5 characters use a pig latin as their secret language – which could only lead to real word play fun in the classroom. She also includes friends who have diverse needs. A great model of students working together.
This is book six of this group of books – five characters, 13 art pieces and the play of events around art. If you haven’t explored her books this is a great time to do a bit of quick mystery reading to enjoy the end of summer and plan for an author/art study for one of your units this year (great for grades 4-6th). A perfect fit mid winter when things can get a bit dull. Think about it – art, word play, poems and rhymes and a good mystery on a cold winters day!
Now back to what I was suppose to be reading Gaia’s Garden about permaculture and Braiding Sweetgrass.