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Art, kids in motion

Friends Calder, Petra and Tommy of Hyde Park are dealing with the trial of a new and apparently unimaginative 7th-grade teacher. On a field trip to an exhibit of Alexander Calder's art, the new teacher values standing in line quietly, rather than reacting to the art. The Calder exhibit establishes the premise underlying the book's later mysteries. A mobile is about items in relationship, but items that move and, hence, change. Is the threesome's friendship a mobile?

Calder is taken along on his father's academic trip to England and finds, in a small town outside Oxford, an Alexander Calder sculpture recently and mysteriously donated to the town. Soon enough, the boy and the sculpture are missing. Back home in Chicago, Petra and Tommy are feeling as if Calder was the only glue in their friendship. His disappearance, however, makes their relationship move to a different position, when they go to England to help find their friend.

Another art overlay to the plot is a real contemporary and anonymous English street artist, Banksy, suspected in the disappearances. Blue Balliett provides introductory epigrams from Alexander Calder ("I make what I see. It's only the problem of seeing it.") and Banksy ("Nobody ever listened to me until they didn't know who I was."), setting up a brilliant tie-in of art and being an adolescent, someone adults don't see clearly as significant. The connection between the artists' ways of working and the young people's ways of being and seeing seem stronger here than in either of Balliett's previous books, and the solutions to the mysteries are more believable and satisfying.

Balliett also deftly combines two aspects of the English setting: the historical echoes at Blenheim Palace and contemporary small-town English life. And even when the book is finished, there are many mobile projects remaining, with words and images. Fun, in depth.

The Calder GameBy Blue Balliett, illustrated by Brett HelquistScholastic, $17.99Ages 9-12 years
Blue Balliett will be at the Chicago Tribune Printers Row Book Fair, June 7 and 8. www.printersrowbookfair.org

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