Cover image for The art of keeping cool
The art of keeping cool
Lisle, Janet Taylor.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, [2000]

Physical Description:
207 pages ; 24 cm
In 1942, Robert and his cousin Elliot uncover long-hidden family secrets while staying in their grandparents' Rhode Island town, where they also become involved with a German artist who is suspected of being a spy.
General Note:
"A Richard Jackson book."
Reading Level:
730 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 5.0 7.0 42449.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.3 12 Quiz: 24458 Guided reading level: T.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Only Robert ever sees the plane. But the pilot is shadowy -- maybe his missing father, maybe not.Robert doesn't mention this vision to Elliot, his cousin, whom he meets when he moves from Ohio with his mother and sister to live out the war with his grandparents in Rhode Island. Elliot can draw better than anyone Robert has ever seen, but he keeps his talent hidden in Grandpa's house. He won't say why. No one will talk either about Robert's father, who left the house as a teenager, never to return. After one dinner, Elliot draws a picture of Grandpa wielding a carving knife like a murder weapon.The time is February 1942, and Nazi submarines are torpedoing U.S. ships off the coast. In March, two tremendous guns are trundled to nearby Fort Brooks. They are mighty sixteen-inch bore Naval guns, one hundred forty-three tons apiece, capable of firing all the way to Nantucket Island. Elliot is frightened by the sight, but half an hour later he's got them down on paper, their huge gray barrels, the nervous crowd of townspeople. "Everything was just like that," Robert exclaims when he sees the finished drawing. "Only this is even better.""That's what happens," Elliot says with a nod. "If I do it right, that's exactly what happens. The real thing gets caught....It can't get you."Also watching the guns' arrival is another artist -- a well-known one from Germany -- Abel Hoffman. A recluse, he becomes Elliot's teacher and friend. But his prowls along the beach raise local suspicions, and his arrest, when it occurs, unleashes havoc in a scene neither cousin can forget.This is a story of dangers lurking inside and outside a house, of deceptive enemies and secrets held too long, and how two friends must find their own very different ways of fighting back.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 5^-8. Like Hahn's Stepping on the Cracks (1991), this is a powerful story of World War II at home, told by a young teenager who comes to question both friends and enemies and finds the dark inside himself. Robert is excited by the hometown military maneuvers and threatening submarines near his grandparents' New England village, where he's living while his dad's away fighting the Nazis. But the battle inside his family is scarier than the military exercises. Why is Robert's father never mentioned? What's the secret of why he left as a teenager and never came back? And why does Robert's friend and cousin, Eliot, cower before their raging grandfather? Shy, artistic Eliot has dangerous secrets, too: he's helping a German painter, Abel Hoffman, who lives in a shack near the beach. Is Abel a Nazi spy, as the angry mob in the village believes? To Robert's lasting shame, he helps them track the fugitive, then he hears about the Nazi mobs that attacked "degenerative" writers and artists like Abel and burned their work. Is the U.S. any different? Lisle weaves together the thrilling war action and the spy mystery with the battles in Robert's family and Robert's personal struggle with anger, jealousy, guilt, and betrayal. There's nothing reverential about the portrait of the gifted "crackpot" artist; in fact, all the characters are drawn with subtlety and depth (except, perhaps, the demonized Grandpa). Like Abel's expressionist art, Lisle's story shows and tells what's behind the appearances of things, the "hidden feelings and memories, terrors and passions . . . everyone knows are there but cannot speak about." --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

PW said, "This wrenching WWII novel traces the relationship between two 13-year-old American boys and a German-born Expressionist painter reputed to be a spy. The intimate first-person narrative brings universal themes of prejudice and loss to a personal level." Ages 10-14. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-7-Despite a misleading title (the word "cool" does not conjure up the 1940s), this is a well-drawn story that is part coming-of-age, part mystery. Robert and his mother have come to live with his grandparents on the Rhode Island coast in 1942, soon after his father has gone off to fight in the war. The coastal residents are getting ready for war and a German painter, living like a hermit on the outskirts of town, has raised suspicions of being a spy. To complicate matters, Robert's cousin Elliott, also an artist, is at odds with their grandfather, an imposing patriarch prone to anger. As the summer unfolds, the tension mounts. Robert and his mother wait anxiously for word from the front; Elliott grows more unhappy at home as he befriends the painter; the town turns against the outsider with tragic consequences; and Robert finally learns why his father has been estranged from his family. The focus is clearly on the men of the household, and cursory treatment is given to the women's feelings and thoughts. Although women in such situations are indeed often overshadowed by their husbands or fathers, the emotional depth of this story is undercut by their portrayals. Still this is a heartfelt story about family dynamics and the harmful power of prejudice and hatred.- Cyrisse Jaffee, formerly at Newton Public Schools, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.