The Vermeer Interviews: Conversations with Seven Works of Art, as imagined by Bob Raczka

coverimageCindy: Johannes Vermeer was a mysterious 17th century Dutch painter with only 34-36 existing paintings and very little known about his life and work. His painting, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, became the subject of a lauded adult novel by Tracy Chevalier. In The Vermeer Interviews (Millbrook, 2009), Bob Raczka attempts to ferret out information about Vermeer and his art by “interviewing” the subjects of a few of his favorite paintings. The milkmaid, the geographer, the couple in the music lesson and even the artist in his studio are questioned about Vermeer and their paintings. Bob questions The Geographer (one of only two paintings of scientists):

BOB: Many historians think the model for both you and The Astronomer was Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (AHN-ton-ee vahn LAY-ven hook), the famous Delft scientist.

GEOG: Yes, I have heard that theory.

BOB: Wasn’t he born in Delft in 1632, just like Vermeer?

GEOG: Yes, I believe he was.

BOB: Also, he would have been about thirty-six years old at the time you were painted–the same age you appear to be. Not mention that when Vermeer died, van Leeuwenhoek as the one who carried out the instructions in his will. Based on all this, I have to believe that you are Antoni van Leeuwenhoek.”

GOEG: As a man of science, I must admit your evidence is compelling.

The interviews cover different aspects of Vermeer’s life and features of his paintings and are an intriguing way to teach art appreciation. Raczka sticks to the known facts, but leaves readers wondering and guessing at their own interpretations. From his interview with Woman in Blue Reading a Letter (How to read a painting):

BOB: Is there a right way to read your painting?


WOMAN: Only Master Vermeer knows for sure. And he never told me.

Lynn: I love this book! I’ll try to move to more professional comments but let me say again how much I love this book! It’s not easy to write about art for young people, especially seventeenth century Dutch art and make it exciting and interesting. Sadly few teens have probably seen much of any kind of art and even fewer have seen Vermeer’s exquisite portraits. Bob Raczka’s unique interview approach is lively and entertaining. “You look like you are humming a tune to yourself. Do you ever hum?” he asks the maid. The subjects of the paintings suddenly seem like real people with intriguing stories to tell. Raczka not only brings Vermeer and his time to life but he also helps young readers understand how to look at a painting. This is a beautifully designed book too. The reproductions of Vermeer’s art are stunning and the pages are enlivened by wonderfully chosen realia that tie to the painting and perfectly illustrate Vermeer’s culture and historic time.

The breezy conversational tone of the interview at first seemed at odds with the classical subject. That feeling disappeared by the second interview and I was completely engaged with the style. Hand this to the nearest teen and watch them look at art in a whole new way! I am mortified to admit that I have not read any of Raczka’s other Art Adventure books but I am planning to track them ALL down! Have I mentioned that I LOVE this book?

 

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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