Lisle, Janet Taylor. 2000. The art of keeping cool. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0689837879
In an effort to make ends meet while Robert's father is fighting World War II in Europe, Robert's mother moves the family from their Ohio farm to Rhode Island to live with his father's family. Upon arrival, Robert finally meets the family he had only vaguely heard about and soon discovers a great friend and artist in his cousin Elliot. During their long stay in Rhode Island, Robert, Elliot, and occationally Robert's little sister Carolyn explore the new massive guns installed at the Army Post on the coast. The boys go to school, study the uniforms of the soldiers, help maintain the garden, and befriend a German outcast who happens to be a famous painter. Ultimately, Robert also gains insight into the secretive rift between his father and grandfather. Through these experiences, Robert learns many valuable lessons of life.
This novel gives the reader a glimpse into life on the Atlantic coast after Pearl Harbor was attacked. The author subtly but poignantly describes the sacrifices made by patriotic Americans. The reader feels the fear that is brought on by the placement of huge guns at the Army Post in town and later by the tragic deaths of a friend's dad and the many sailors on the bombed ships. Once can't help but mistrust the German artist at first and then be sickened by the cruel treatment he received from the townspeople. The reader even gets a little hungry for meat. Overall, the story would be a history teacher's dream as it tells a lot about how Americans lived during World War II but presents the information in an exciting, page-turning manner.
Professional Review Excerpts
from Publishers Weekly 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.
from School Library Journal 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.
~ Obviously, this book could be used as an example of life in America during WWII as well as provide a glimpse into life in Nazi Germany.
~ The novel could also be used to describe expressionist art and artists.
~ Another use for this book would be to explore family relationships and how past experiences shape current actions.