The Purple Quill
Who am I?
“Purple is the color of believing.” The Danger Box
Blue Balliett is a fascinating and inspiring woman, and her books are great, too. Her Chasing Vermeer (2004) had an incredible, highly acclaimed debut. The books to follow in the sense of a series The Wright 3 (2006) and The Calder Game (2008) were just as wonderful.
Balliett has established herself as a truly original voice in Juvenile Fiction, especially in the Mystery genre. Much of her originality is found in her protagonists. Balliett is an example of how you need not (nor should not) depend on stereotype to develop the “right” character for the case. Her characters are “coincidently” perfectly suited to solve the mysteries at hand.
Balliett also does her research and weaves fact into the consciousness of the story. The investigators’ enthusiasm is infectious and nothing historical is dry, nor is it unimportant. Events hundreds of years past find connection in the present, and such value is significant to the story. The protagonists learn about themselves, or find validation in being unusual. Unusual reads Gifted or Meant in Balliett’s books. The stories value distinction and considering differing perspectives. The books value the mind and all the senses, and even the unexplained, the happenstance. Balliett is for curious minds; thinkers, observers, recorders; i.e. children. “All kids can be amazing problem-solvers and powerful thinkers, no matter what they are good at doing or whether they’re successful in school. That belief is at the heart of everything that I write.”
I mentioned that in Balliett’s stories the past helps inform the present, connections are made. What is lovely in The Danger Box is that the present story, and the very present character of Zoomy help inform the past. A historical figure is made more human, drawn to be considered in a compassionate and thoughtful way, because of Zoomy, and Lorrol.
Lorrol (yes, Laurel “misspelled” ) aka Firecracker girl, is the impetus behind The Gas Gazette: A Free Newspaper about a Mysterious Soul, whose issues you will find throughout the book in thoughtful and chronological progression. Lorrol and Brain boy/Zoomy share facts/trivia and quotes via a series of first person statements, followed by a “Who am I?” and a thought-provoking (thematic) question. Would love to see this inspire Elementary School classrooms. They are marvelous, and not the least frivolous. I love Balliett’s creativity.
That Balliett places her stories in real places with real mysteries are inspiring. “My dream is that one of the kids who reads The Danger Box really will find this missing treasure one day. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction…” I love who Balliett imagines could find the missing treasure in The Danger Box. “It seemed like seeing wasn’t a big part of this, because so many things looked like one thing and then turned out to be another” (271).
I enjoyed every one of Balliett’s previous three novels. The Danger Box surpassed them all. Perhaps that is not a fair statement. While fans of Balliett can be assured that The Danger Box is certainly her work, the new characters have shaped a new adventure, and a different way of approaching the Mystery. While I believe, Balliett has offered a fresh approach/voice to Juvenile Mysteries with her previous three, in The Danger Box she is again pushing boundaries in offering a new perspective.
“The idea that so-called weaknesses can become strengths-that intrigues me. Are there also times when a physical disability can allow a person to accomplish things that others might not? I think this is an exciting question."
Protagonists or deuteragonists with disabilities are good, and are hopefully becoming more available. (I know there are people who follow this, feel free to chime in, or read the book and come back and comment.) The question Balliett asks is exciting, “Are there also times when a physical disability can allow a person to accomplish things that others might not?” Her answer in the way of The Danger Box is compelling. What better setting for a question like this than a story involving Charles Darwin, evolution, and the book’s opening game with an eye on ‘survival of the fittest’?
Besides merely giving characters physical disadvantages, she gives them social/cultural ones as well. The Danger Box is a good book for a diverse audience, but will prove quite valuable to the “majority”; no one should be underestimated. Balliett spurs critical thinking, while convincing the reader of the value of it.
Balliett is fantastic with the descriptors, and her charm in the application of them, much of this has to do with the first person narrator Zoomy and his youthful take on the world:
Stick your finger straight out from the tip of your nose: That’s how far I can focus clearly. To see farther, I have to put on my glasses, which are heavy. The lenses are about as thick as a homemade oatmeal cookie, and the frames are brown. With glasses, you can see my whole eye and I guess it looks far away, like it’s maybe in the next room." (20)
I’m shorter than other kids my age, and I have thick hair that grows north, south, east, and west, even after a buzz cut. Gumps, who doesn’t have much hair, says I’m lucky to have it.
I have veins that don’t look blue through the skin on my hands, and I don’t’ get sunburned like my grandparents do. We all think I have more practical skin than the other Chamberlains. (21)
Slap, whack, smack—rubber beach sandals on a marble staircase can sound like firecrackers. (67)
Balliett has offered the Reader great characters, setting, and a nicely paced plot; as well as thought-provoking questions that the Reader can take home with them. So be careful. The book isn’t just called The Danger Box, it is one.
The Danger Box by Blue Balliett
Scholastic Press, 2010.
Hardcover, 320 pages
Recommended ages are 9-12; Seems reasonable.
A boy in a small town who has a different way of seeing.
A mischievous girl who won’t stay in one place.
A mysterious notebook .
These are some of the things you’ll find within The Danger Box, the new mystery from bestselling author Blue Balliett.
note: Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, & The Calder Game are all Scholastic Press as well. And should be read; their trade paperbacks @ Powells books are embarrassingly affordable.
Yesterday’s quotes in the post “inspired” can be attributed to these sites: Blue Balliett’s Bio @ Scholastic Press, including the pop-ups: Author’s Note, Q&A on writing, and Blue’s Favorite Books; and Blue Balliet’s Website, mainly The Danger Box page. Do check them out.
I was made aware that Balliett had The Danger Box out via “Welcome to My Tweendom,” her review.