Children’s Fiction of 2008: The Calder Game by Blue Balliett

Yes, this book tells a story with characters and a plot, a beginning and an ending: three friends work together to solve the mystery of a missing Alexander Calder sculpture. But I’m not sure it’s about all that traditional mystery genre stuff; it’s more about mobiles, and games, and the free play of ideas.

“A mobile, one might say, is a little private celebration, an object defined by its movement and having no other existence. It is a flower that fades when it ceases to move, a pure play of movement in the sense that we speak of a pure play of light. . . . There is more of the unpredictable about them than in any other human creation. No human brain, not even their creator’s, could possibly foresee all the complex combinations of which they are capable.” ~Jean-Paul Sartre

A reader will get out of this book what he puts into it. If you’re not willing to work at it a bit, take the dead ends with a playful attitude, make lemonade from the lemons, then find another book. I almost did because I’m really a rather prosaic kind of gal. But I’m glad I persisted. Even though I thought the plot was rather mundane, the book itself was anything but pedestrian. I got to think about mobiles and art and play in a new way. The book asks questions: What is art? Can art change people’s perceptions? Can it make people see things differently? What is the difference between art and play? What is the place of art in our communities and in our living spaces? Can art enter our relationships and change them, too?

“A mobile is a moving, changing collection of objects constantly in motion, yet within the framework of a form. The framework of a family gives form, but as one starts with a man and woman, a mother and father, there is never any one day following another when these two, plus the children that come through adoption or birth into the home, are either the same age or at the same point of growth. Every individual is growing, changing, developing or declining – intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, physically and psychologically. A family is a group of individuals who are affecting each other…as each individual person is changing.” ~Edith Schaeffer

The Calder Game is, on the surface, a mystery adventure tale, and that’s its weakest aspect. Beneath the surface it’s profound on the subject of art and the influence of movement in art without being pretentious, and that’s where it shines. The book will challenge readers to find their own strengths and create their own mobiles. I predict that some kids, and some adults, won’t get it. But others will be inspired by the messiness of the game to take creativity to another level.

“The underlying sense of form in my work has been the system of the Universe, or part thereof.” ~Alexander Calder

“Think of the mobiles of God, the Artist, brought forth by the wind that He created. The wind, blowing in the trees, swaying the grass, bending a field of wheat as a ballet, rising again, bending again. The spray of the ocean, wild waves against rocks bringing forth a curve of spray, a mobile of spray. Light through spray, like thousands of diamonds blowing on invisible threads! The movement of the birth trees’ delicate branches and sensitive leaves twinkling and twisting, fluttering in a breeze; or clouds drifting slowly across a clear sky or scudding in swift movements as shapes change – God’s mobiles.” ~Edith Schaeffer

So, a non-traditional book deserves a non-traditional review. (By the way, I haven’t read Balliett’s first two books in this series yet, Chasing Vermeer and The Wright 3, but I plan to read them as soon as I get through Cybils season.)

Other more sequential blogger reviews:

KidsReads: “Like its predecessors, THE CALDER GAME utilizes real information about art, artists and places (in this case, the Cotswolds’ Blenheim Palace and its famous maze) to get readers excited about learning. It also shows how kids, each of whom has his or her unique way of thinking and problem-solving, can work together to make connections and find patterns. Unlike the previous two books, however, THE CALDER GAME relies more solidly on evidence, clues and deductive reasoning to arrive at its conclusion — resulting in a novel that will satisfy mystery fans as well as art lovers.”

Shelf Elf: “I don’t think this is a book for every kid. What Balliett is good at is creating a rich, half under-the-surface exploration of how art, philosophy, logic and people intersect. This book will really appeal to a certain sort of child – a kid who likes to look for connections, who spends time thinking about questions, who is a problem solver.”

5 thoughts on “Children’s Fiction of 2008: The Calder Game by Blue Balliett

  1. We enjoyed Blue Balliet’s earlier novels; thanks for letting me know there’s a new one out there. My kids like the interactive format.

  2. harry

    I liked her first two books, and I can’t wait to read this one. I especially liked the wright three

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