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Pieces and Players
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Pieces and Players unites the now-13-year-old protagonists of various Blue Balliet books (including Chasing Vermeer) in yet another search for stolen art. Sometimes aided by the adults who want them to find the art, they break into buildings, get hauled to the police station, climb onto train tracks, befriend a ghost, use a Ouija board, and attempt to form telepathic bonds with the people in the stolen paintings. Meanwhile, they're also dealing with puberty-related awkwardness, from acne and BO to hoping members of the opposite sex like them. Though there are some mildly scary moments, there's no real violence; the only fatality is from natural causes.
What's the story?
After a small Chicago museum loses 13 priceless art works in a bold heist, the trustees call in help: 13-year-old Petra, Calder, and Tommy (Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, The Calder Game), Zoomy (The Danger Box), and Early(Hold Fast). As they seek the stolen objects, they travel to many Chicago sites of interest, get to know a lot of art installations, deal with adults behaving oddly, and cope with the challenges of getting to know one another and working together. (The fictitious Farmer Museum and its art are based on Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, from which the 13 works were stolen in 1990 and remain missing.)
Is it any good?
This story throws together a lot of disparate elements and often doesn't quite gel; readers who don't know the previous books (mentioned frequently) will often find themselves at sea. There's an oddly matter-of-fact acceptance in PIECES AND PLAYERS not only of the existence of ghosts but of the ability of long-dead people to communicate telepathically with people through images and poetry. Many readers will find the frequent emoting over artworks a bit much. But most off-putting is the chore of dealing with several characters' idiosyncratic quirks; Calder's constant fiddling with pentominoes (a math toy) and stream-of-consciousness, apparently oracular word associations; Zoomy's note-taking and punctuating his sentences with "hodilly-hum" and "jittery-splat"; as well as several characters' tendency to burst out in Mother Goose rhymes. In the end, the payoff may not be worth the trouble.
For whatever reason, the book does not include actual images of the stolen art, which includes works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Degas, still missing in real life, even though it devotes much space to describing and analyzing them. Images are readily available on the Internet and may help you follow along.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about art and why it matters. Have you seen any paintings you really like? What do you like about them? What do they make you think about?
Have you visited Chicago? After reading this story, are there places you'd like to visit there and things you'd like to do?
What do you think really happened to the stolen paintings?
- Author: Blue Balliett
- Genre: Mystery
- Topics: Adventures, Arts and Dance, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
- Publication date: March 31, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 320
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.