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
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Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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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

Following the tradition of Summer of My German Soldier, 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. After narrator Robert's father enlists as a pilot, Robert, his mother and younger sister move in with Robert's paternal grandparents in a small town on the coast of Rhode Island. Robert despises his hot-tempered grandfather, but finds a companion in cousin Elliot, a sensitive boy with a remarkable talent for drawing. Though Robert introduces Elliot as having "mastered the art of keeping cool," Elliot's actions belie his anxieties and nervous tics (e.g., he doesn't fit in at school, and he chews on the skin between his thumb and forefinger whenever he's troubled); and the 1950s phrase seems out of sync with the time period. When Elliot befriends the German painter, Abel Hoffman, Robert fears for his cousin's safety and the unleashing of his grandfather's wrath if the friendship were discovered. However, Robert is unprepared for the sudden explosion of hatred by the townspeople when their suspicions against Abel are aroused. As apt at writing historical fiction as she is at penning fantasy, Lisle (The Lost Flower Children; Afternoon of the Elves) weaves together an intriguing web of family secrets and wartime fears while encapsulating the wave of patriotism sweeping the nation in the 1940s. The intimate first-person narrative brings universal themes of prejudice and loss to a personal level as the boys and their artist friend discover the destructive power of war on the home front. Ages 10-14. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6-8-In the spring of 1942, Robert moves with his mother and sister to the coastal village of Sachem's Head, RI, to live with her in-laws. Robert's father is in Europe, fighting with the Royal Air Force against the Germans, and unable to keep up the family farm. The first strange thing Robert notices is his cousin, Elliot, who seems very different from all the other boys, but who has an amazing talent for drawing. But there is more than one mystery in this household. Why will no one talk about Robert's father? And what is Elliot's connection to the strange recluse, a German artist, who lives in the woods? As the days lengthen into summer, Sachem's Head gears up for war, and Robert finds himself confronting growing tensions, both from the fearful villagers and from within his own family. Lisle's novel (Atheneum, 1980) deftly explores the themes of resentment, prejudice, and secrecy in this historical portrait of a child's life in wartime. The fears and questions Robert faces are still relevant today. Charles Carroll's narration is quietly understated, allowing the rhythm and mystery of the author's prose to carry the story. Also included is an author's note, which is not found in some print versions. Along with books by Christopher Paul Curtis and Richard Peck, this novel is a solid addition to historical fiction collections.-Michaela Schied, Indian River Middle School, Philadelphia, NY (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.