DOWNERS GROVE – When former teacher Blue Balliett’s mega-hit children’s book “Chasing Vermeer” caught fire in 2004, it propelled her, as she says, out of the classroom and into the career of full-time writer.
The Hyde Park resident has written several successful follow-up children’s novels, including her last book, “Hold Fast,” released in 2013. Next week, she’ll take a break from writing in her preferred quiet spot, the laundry room at home, to return to another one of her other favorite places, the classroom.
Balliett is one of several authors who will meet with students during Downers Grove School District 58’s author fest. The three-day event will wrap up with a book-signing featuring the authors and illustrators at the Herrick Middle School, 4435 Middaugh Ave., on April 11. Books will be available for purchase from Anderson’s Bookshop beginning at 6:30 p.m., and authors will sign from 7 to 8 p.m at the school.
Balliett said meeting with small student groups allows her to do something she wished someone would have done for her as a child. “When I was growing up, no authors came to my school,” she said in a phone interview. “There was no encouragement to find out how books were made. I was a huge reader and wanted to do it so badly, but it looked impossible.”
It’s also a great opportunity for Balliett to hear what her readers think. She said it helps that children are unintimidated by descriptors like “New York Times best-selling author” when sharing their opinions.
“Kids often start talking spontaneously about what they’d like to see me do,” she said. “And what subjects they want tackled. It’s a fabulous age. It’s a great age to be writing for, too.”
Balliett hooks her readers with suspense, puzzles and mysteries – the plot at the center of “Chasing Vermeer” is a stolen painting by the Dutch master.
Buttressing the adventure are real-world ideas, she said, describing her work as more fact than fiction, the results of obsessive research. But more than anything, they are meant to be fun to read, even when tackling weighty subjects.
“It’s a very upbeat book, oddly,” she said. “It deals with really difficult truths. But it’s not a book that departs from my other books in that it is all about kids’ abilities to think critically and be great detectives.”