December 10, 2007

The Wright 3

Posted in Children's Literature, Mystery at 4:24 am by j128

The Wright 3

The Wright 3

The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett and illustrated by Brett Helquist was published in 2006. It is the sequel to the author’s much acclaimed previous novel Chasing Vermeer. It features Calder and Petra, whom we met in the previous novel, and a new character: Calder’s friend Tommy Segovia who was mentioned throughout Chasing Vermeer.


Tommy Segovia has returned to the Hyde Park neighbourhood in Chicago in the month of June with his mother Zelda Segovia after the unfortunate events with his stepfather. (See Chasing Vermeer.) He feels “oddly like a ghost” for it seems everything has undergone a change. His old house has been painted green, reminding him of unripe tomatoes, and his best friend Calder has changed, too, since he last saw him. Calder no longer has at least one spot of dried food on his face, his hair is combed, he ties his shoelaces, and his teeth are brushed. Also he has a new set of pentominoes. They are three-dimensional and are orange; they also make a sharp clacking noise whenever Calder stirs them in his pocket, unlike his old ones, which made a soft clatter. The latest development is also Calder’s befriending of Petra Andelee, which Tommy does not fully agree on yet. She reminds him of an exotic monkey he once saw in the zoo because of her eyes. Their friendship happened over the recovery of a painting by Vermeer that occurred while Tommy was away in New York. Tommy is considerably bugged by the Vermeer event as it was missed glory for him.

The story really begins when Ms. Hussey, their eccentric, excitable, and fun school teacher, announces the “demolition” of Hyde Park’s famous landmark: the Robie House, built by one of America’s most well-known architects of the twentieth century, Frank Lloyd Wright. The Robie House is due to be cut into sections and donated to four famous museums internationally: the Museum of Modern Art in New York City; the Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.; the Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany; and the Meiji Mura Museum, Japan, as repairs are costly and the university doesn’t have the money.

Tommy is a collector and he collects everything from old popsicle sticks to four-leaf clovers, which he has about fifty pressed in a photo album. His most prized collection, however, are fish, which are all placed on a special shelf. He even owns a pet goldfish named Goldman. He finds another fish find on the property of the Robbie House when he decides to dig. The fish in question is a carp and it is dragon-like. Tommy shows it to his goldfish and hides it in Goldman’s fishbowl, deciding to keep it for himself for a while.

Meanwhile Petra and Calder are both looking out their bedroom windows. Petra is trying to think of something to write when the train goes by and she sees the silhouette of a man with a black billowing cape and he drops a square shaped object out of the window. The square shaped object turns out to be, when Petra and Calder investigate, another copy of The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. (Petra had picked up another copy at Powell’s, the nearby bookstore, in the give-away box.) Petra begins reading The Invisible Man between intervals.

Through their own separate investigations, etc., the three children come together in friendship, and start working together to save the Robbie House, including a campaign run by Ms. Hussey explaining the difference between appreciating a whole piece of art and appreciating only part of a piece of art by taking duplicates of famous pieces of art, mainly paintings, and tearing them apart. Their campaign is very successful and even appears in the newspaper, much to Tommy’s pleasure.

Sometime after this Petra gets the idea to name themselves the Wright 3 and Tommy also shows his friends the carp he found on the Robie House’s property. They’re all really amazed, yet no matter how proud Tommy is, he lies that he didn’t find on the property of the Robie House, but somewhere in the Japanese Gardens. The three friends go there and Tommy shows them where he “found” the carp.Shortly after this episode when Tommy comes home, he finds their flat has been ransacked. Tommy rescues Goldman from near death but realizes the carp has disappeared. The police arrive and investigate, with the conclusion that it appears that nothing of value was stolen – or so it seems. Zelda says at least she and Tommy still have each other….and Goldman. They tidy up their flat and buy an even better bowl for Goldman.

As the schedule for the Robie House’s demolition nears, Petra, Calder, and Tommy decide to sneak into the House to investigate and cover themselves by telling their parents they’ve gone to the cinema to see a running of The Three Musketeers, concluding that the length of the film should be enough time for them. Unfortunately while they are in the Robie House they are captured and tied up by two thieves who have been stealing things from the Robie House and they also stole the carp fish, which is of considerable value as it was owned by Frank Lloyd Wright, who lost it one day during the construction of the Robie House, and naturally, the carp is worth a considerable amount of money. The thieves’ intentions had been to sell the carp and get the money. Once they’ve left the Robie House they are going to set fire to it.The children begin their escape by asking if it is all right if they pray but actually they are not. They’re “chanting” in “Romain Latin” or in actual truth, they are conversing with one another in the new code invented by Calder. Petra tells one of the thieves in English she needs to use the bathroom and when she gets back Tommy and Calder have tied up the thieves.The children’s parents come to know of it and are all shocked and give their children a bit of a lecture, but they are all happy that the children are safe.

The thieves confess their scheme and even “confess” that they weren’t really going to burn down the Robie House with the children inside, though the Wright 3 really aren’t so sure. In the end, the Robbie House is saved from its demolition, and Tommy and his mother are even allowed to live in it; giving tours, and a gift shop will be added. All’s well that ends well.


Just as there were codes in Chasing Vermeer, so there are in The Wright 3. Introduced are the Fibbonacci numbers and the number three. One of the examples included is the fact that all three children will be turning thirteen years of age. More examples can be found within the book. Yet again in Brett Helquist’s illustrations there are hidden images and this time they’re fishy. It takes a while to pinpoint them but once they have been found it is incredibly difficult not to notice them.

H.G. Wells and Rear Window

In The Wright 3 one of H.G. Wells’s books, The Invisible Man, appears. As did Charles Fort’s Lo! play an important role (Chasing Vermeer) so does The Invisible Man. H.G. Wells’s novel sort of almost runs parallel to The Wright 3. (Expect a review of The Invisible Man soon.) Also featured in the book is the 1954 film Rear Window, based on the short story by Conell Woolrich. Zelda mentions it to Tommy and they both watch it with a bowl of popcorn. As Zelda says it was already old when she watched it (yet it is her favourite). It is used in sorts of a reference to Tommy looking out his window, which has a view of the Robie House, and him observing what is going on outside.


Article about The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells


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