The Art of Keeping Cool

( 11 )

Overview

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.

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.

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Overview

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.

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
KLIATT
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, November 2000: Hidden family secrets are the main theme of this novel set during WW II in a small Rhode Island town on the Atlantic. This town is adjusting to the threat of German submarine attack, with a fort nearby, big guns, and suspicious eyes looking for spies. Two boys, 13-year-old cousins, are the main characters. Robert has come with his mother and little sister to his father's childhood home, taking refuge while the father is in England fighting. Elliot is his cousin, a gifted artist, with rather strange behavior. Both boys get the brunt of their grandfather's wrath. Elliot responds by pretending to be meek and later drawing vicious caricatures. Robert has a harder time controlling his justly felt anger at this grandfather's bullying. It is this situation that must have inspired the title. Elliot befriends an artist living in a shack near the fort; the man is a German, an expressionist painter. Elliot understands immediately what Abel Hoffman is trying to do, and he spends as much time as possible painting with him, learning from him. The violent climax of the story connects two acts of violence: the attack on the German painter by townspeople, and the uncovering of the secret as to the evil in his grandfather's behavior towards his family. Of course, worry over Robert's father provides a steady amount of suspense. There are several main themes that will appeal to readers: understanding a gifted artist; the home front during WW II; fathers and sons; family secrets. Lisle writes with skill and intelligence, obviously familiar with the setting of this novel. (Winner of the Scott O'Dell Award.) KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended forjunior high school students. 2002, Simon & Schuster, Aladdin, 250p.,
— Claire Rosser
Children's Literature
This thriller skirts back and forth between reality and fantasy—from 143-ton Navy guns aimed at Nazi submarines that have managed to creep close enough to U.S. shores to torpedo ships, to a young artist named Elliot, who deftly captures real things "down on paper" where they "get caught and can't get you any more." Elliot is a cousin of the protagonist, Robert, whose father has gone to England to fly with the Royal Air Force in World War II. This forces Robert and his mother to lease their Ohio farm (never telling his father) and move in back East with his father's family. Mysteries prevail—why does a plane and its pilot, who may be his father, keep appearing to Robert? Why is his father's name never mentioned in the home where he grew up? What is the real cause of his father's bad leg, supposedly the result of a flying accident? How is it that Elliot can draw the way he does, and why does he never speak back to his irascible grandfather? And who really is the famous artist Abel Hoffman, a German in their Rhode Island town who teaches Elliot about art and threatens his closeness with Robert? Other than too many typographical errors, this fast-paced adventure provides the final unraveling of long-buried secrets and scenes of striking, hideous beauty. No happy ending here, but the reader will find a believable and satisfactory resolution. A Junior Literary Guild Selection. 2000, Atheneum, $17.00. Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Judy Chernak
VOYA
Thirteen-year-old Robert lives in a world where mystery hides around every corner. In spring 1942, he, his mother, and his five-year-old sister moved from their Ohio farm to a cottage down the road from his paternal grandparent's home on the Rhode Island shore. His aunt and uncle and their thirteen-year-old son, Elliot, also share the grandparents' house. With his father flying with the Royal Canadian Air Force in Europe, Robert's mother jumped at the chance to stay near family, although she had never met the Rhode Island branch before. Mysteries abound in the big house and small town. Where are the childhood pictures of Robert's father, and why is his father not mentioned? Why does Elliot twitch and fidget, hiding his artistic gifts from his family? Who is the strange man with the German accent who wears a blue hat? Are those German periscopes out in the Atlantic? Robert wonders if his father will come home and where that home will be. This beautifully written, fascinating historical novel envelops the reader in its world. Although some of the questions it asks might be clichés, none of the answers are expected. Lisle recreates wartime America, from Rosie the Riveter to early impressionist art with a truly subtle prose. The novel should attract a diverse readership, from mystery and art lovers to fans of World War II fiction. All libraries will want this book on their shelves. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P M J (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2000, Atheneum/S & S, 207p, $17. Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: Beth Karpas

SOURCE: VOYA, December 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 5)

School Library Journal
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 Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Two stunning tragedies are at the center of this story of the WWII homefront. Lisle deftly uses the first two chapters to introduce characters and setting. The first begins with the slow progress of mighty naval guns into a Rhode Island village in 1942. Watching are 13-year-old cousins Robert and Elliot, and Abel Hoffman, an artist who has fled Nazi Germany. The second begins with a family dinner where Grandfather controls his family through barely contained rage. There is a ghost at the table and in Robert's life—his emotionally elusive father who is flying for the Royal Air Force, the mere mention of whom exacts savage reaction from Grandfather. Surrounding the two tragedies, which are never far from the surface, is a finely woven web of secrets, suspicions, prejudice, and fear. Lisle brings the anti-German sentiment that swept the East Coast into sharp relief through Hoffman, who discovers he is reliving the nightmare of his life in Germany. When the villagers, convinced he is a Nazi spy, set fire to his home and work, Hoffman walks into the flames of his own paintings. Characters are interestingly developed, especially the artistic Elliot, who uses his drawing to catch and contain images of fear so they lose their power over him. Elliot, who never directly opposes his grandfather, disappears into self-imposed isolation within his family. The second tragedy is jarring for all its earlier foreshadowing. Fittingly, it is revealed through Elliot's drawing in which Robert's defiant father is shot in the leg by his own father. The conclusion leaves Robert wondering how he can bear to live in a family that serves itself daily doses of denial and pretense, andlearning"the art of keeping cool" from his enigmatic cousin. Briskly plotted, emotionally complex, brutal in incident yet delicately nuanced in the telling, a fine historical fiction. (Fiction. 10-14)
Children's Literature - Nicole Peterson Davis
World War II changed the way America looked at the world. And the war changed the outlook of one young boy. When his father went to war, his mother moved the family from a small farm to the eastern shore to be with her husband's family. There he met his grandparents, an aunt and uncle, and his cousin, Elliott for the first time. He and Elliott became great friends. There they learned about the tragedies that were happening to the Jews in Europe. There they lost the sheltering of the farm. This fictional story is based on events that happened in one small town during the war. Although the characters are fictional, the story sheds light on the attitudes and thoughts people would have experienced during this time. In one part of the story, one of the characters explains what it was like to be chased in Europe, and then the same thing happens to him in the United States. This is a great story to teach about American History, and the effects this war had on those who stayed at home while the soldiers were fighting, but because of its intensity, the story is best for more mature children. Reviewer: Nicole Peterson Davis
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780613541091
  • Publisher: Turtleback Books: A Division of Sanval
  • Publication date: 5/1/2002
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.06 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Janet Taylor Lisle's novels for young readers include five selected as Best Books of the Year by School Library Journal: Sirens and Spies, The Lampfish of Twill, Forest, A Message from the Match Girl (from the Investigators of the Unknown series), and Afternoon of the Elves, a Newbery Honor Book. Her most recent title for Atheneum is The Art of Keeping Cool, a Horn Book Fanfare title and winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction.
She lives with her family of the coast of Rhode Island.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

There are people in this world who are naturally open and easy to get to know, and there are difficult people, the ones who put up barricades and expect you to climb over them.

Elliot Marks was the second kind of person. The first time I saw him, he was standing outside without a coat on in the middle of a freezing New England February, mopping his nose and looking up into the bare limbs of a tree, staring up as if something amazing was there. Nothing was, or not that I could see anyway.

"Who is that?" I whispered to my mother.

We had just arrived at my Grandpa and Grandma Saunders' house in Rhode Island, a place we'd never visited before. My mother had brought me and my five-year-old sister, Carolyn, east from our farm in Ohio to stay in Sachem's Head while our father was away fighting. She'd been lonely by herself, and found it hard to keep the farm running with just me to help. When Grandma Saunders wrote to say a cottage had come empty next door on Parson's Lane, and why didn't she bring the children and live there, my mother went right out and bought our train tickets. It shocked me how fast she did it.

"What about Dad? He expects us to stay here," I protested.

"I'll write him. We'll get the post office to forward his letters until then," she answered.

"Who wants to live In a cottage when we already have a whole house?"

"It's on the ocean. There's a beach nearby. Carolyn will like that."

"But, what about the farm? Are you just going to let it go down?"

"I'll lease out the fields I can," she said. "I would've had to do that anyway. Where was I going to find hired help with every able-bodied man enlisted in the service?"

"Well, what about thehogs? You can't leave them!"

After we moved cast, I used to wake up in the mornings with a picture in my mind of our old house, of how the fields spread out flat in all directions around it, and the sky streamed over it like a great river, sometimes deep and blue, sometimes muddy, stirred tip, racing with clouds.

"There's wing room out here," my father used to say, dredging up an old term from his test pilot days. His eyes would look out across a field he'd just plowed, then come back to me squeezed in beside him on the tractor.

"Plenty of room to wag your wings when you need to," he'd say.

I'd never flown in an airplane but I liked the idea of having wing room. I liked being on my own, working by myself. I had friends but didn't have to be close-in with people every minute of the day. There was a kind of strength in knowing you could stand by yourself. My father had it, I knew that. It was what had brought him to Ohio in the first place, to buy land and start the farm. Now it was what had sent him over to England ahead of everybody else to fight the Nazis.

My father had a bad leg. He walked with a hitch in his stride, the result of a plane crash that had nearly killed him before he met my mom, he said. But he never let it stop him from doing what he wanted. He never talked about it or made excuses, and if his limp stood out in people's minds in the beginning, they'd forget it as they got to know him. That leg just didn't go with the rest of him. Most of the time, he seemed to forget it, too, because every once in a while he'd try to jump a brook or climb a ladder too fast and he'd fall. Afterwards, he'd pick himself up and go on without a word, even if he was hurt. From the look on his face, I'd know not to say anything either.

Of course, I knew my mother could stand alone, too. Her parents had died when she was a baby and she had to live with relatives growing up. She'd learned how to fight for herself by the time she met my father in Cincinnati. They planned out the farm together, built the house, cleared the fields. She'd worked right along with him, and cared as much, but:

"We'll sell the hogs...and the chickens," she answered me that day, so fast I could see she'd been thinking of something like this for a while. It was a month after the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor. My dad had been gone more than six months by then.

"That's the money we'll use for train fare," she said. "And for rent on this cottage your grandmother's found us. And for living on while I see about a job. I'm not planning to hang on your grandfather's coattails like everyone else back there."

"A job!" I snorted. "What kind of job?"

"There's a big torpedo factory in Newport that's hiring. Your Aunt Nan just started working there. She says I could, too."

"Aunt Nan, who's that?"

She glanced over at me. "Your father's sister. You know, Aunt Nan and Uncle Jake? They live there with your grandmother and grandfather in Sachem's Head. In the same house now, since Jake lost his business. It must be like Grand Central Station with all your grandfather's patients coming and going.

"What patients?"

"Robby! He's Dr. Saunders, the town doctor. Did you forget everything your father ever told you?"

He'd never told me anything, that was the trouble. Vaguely, I'd heard of them though, names in holiday cards, on birthday gifts done up in fancy, Eastern wrap. I remember my father laughing over a pair of fake red leather cowboy boots they sent me for my sixth or seventh birthday.

"What do they think, that he's about to start taking square dancing lessons?" he asked my mother.

From the tone he used, I knew all I needed to about those relatives in Rhode Island. Redbooted Easterners was how I began to think of them.

"This whole idea is stupid," I told Mom. "You've never even had a real job."

That insulted her. "I suppose I could learn," she snapped, "the same way I've been learning to run this entire farm by myself."

We left barely a month later. Three days on the train, sleeping berths at night. A crowd of servicemen was on board riding east with us, and there were many other -- sailors, marines, airmen -- in the stations we went through, waiting for connections, duffle bags slung over their shoulders. I watched them and edged up to listen to their talk when I could. They were headed to training camps in Maryland, Virginia, or North Carolina. From there they'd ship overseas to fight. They'd be in Europe by September, or on a battleship off Gibraltar. A lot of them wanted to get to the Pacific to give it to the Japs. The Germans were Krauts and they were going to get beat.

"My dad's over there right now, flying with the Royal Canadian Air Force out of England. He's a pilot," I told them a few times. The response was always terrific.

"Hey, good man!"

"That-a-way!"

"How'd he get there so fast?"

"He used to fly for the mail service. Then he was a test pilot for the U.S. Army," I'd explain. "He knows a lot about the bombers President Roosevelt's sending over to help England, so he was asked to go."

"Hush, Robert, that's boasting," my mother would say. She didn't like talking about where my father was or what he might be doing. It was bad luck, she said, to harp on what you didn't know.

Uncle Jake was at the Providence train station to meet us when we came in late in the afternoon. He drove us in his plumber's pick-up down the coast to Sachem's Head, and we had just stepped down out of the truck into Grandma Saunders' welcoming hug, with Aunt Nan and Grandpa Saunders looking on behind, when:

"Who is that?" I asked about the coatless person standing back from everyone, shivering, mopping his nose and looking up of all places, up into a tree instead of down at the important thing that was happening: our arrival.

"You know who that is!" my mother whispered.

"No I don't."

"It's Elliot. Your cousin Elliot, Jake and Nan's son. He's younger than you, I think."

He was the same age as it turned out. Five months older, in fact, but smaller, shyer, standing back from everyone as if he was afraid to call attention to himself. It was this I first noticed about him, that no one tried to introduce Elliot to us. No one asked him what he was doing staring up into a tree. No one told him to go put on a coat. Slow was how I read him in the beginning. Slow and probably sickly.

"Hello," I said, going past.

"Oh, hello." Elliot brought his strange gaze down from the tree and applied it to me.

"I didn't know you..." I began, and stopped. I was going to say, "I didn't know you existed."

"That's all right, I didn't know about you either," Elliot said, getting the message anyway. "Until last week when they said you were coming. I guess our families didn't keep up too well."

"I guess not."

"Excuse me," Elliot said, glancing over my shoulder. He turned and walked away to a far edge of the yard where he began to beat his hands against the sides of his legs, to keep the blood flowing in them, most likely. Night was falling; the temperature outside couldn't have been more than fifteen degrees.

I looked around to see what had made him go off so fast. Grandpa Saunders was coming up, For a doctor, he was not very friendly-looking. He was tall, with a round, bald head and eyes that jumped out at you sharp and clear behind steel-rimmed glasses. A few minutes before, he'd shaken my hand and bent down stiffly to kiss my mother on her cheek. Now I saw him checking me over again.

"You've got the Callahan looks," he said, stopping beside me. "Your grandmother's side of the family, not mine."

"My mother thinks I look like my father," I told him. He didn't answer, just gave a kind of grunt and looked over toward Elliot.

"That fool is going to catch his death out here," he said. "Would you be standing outside in this weather without a coat, waving your arms around like some Godforsaken windmill?"

"Not usually," I said carefully. I knew a rigged question when I heard one.

"Not usually, not usually," Grandpa Saunders muttered. He turned his back and marched off toward the house.

We were all invited inside to dinner. Grandma Saunders had been in the kitchen since breakfast, readying up for our arrival. She had quick, dark eyes and was always reaching out to pat your shoulder or squeeze your hand when she talked. I liked her. I wondered why my father had barely mentioned her over the years, and never wanted to visit.

"Nobody cooks like your grandma," Aunt Nan told me on the way inside. "She's been wanting to get her hands on you and Carolyn for years."

"Why didn't Dad ever bring us here?"

"Oh, various complications," Aunt Nan said, lightly. I saw her eyes meet my mother's over my head. Something about the word "complications" made me think of my father's lameness, and I wondered if travel used to be harder for him than it was now.

"It's about time these children met the rest of their family. We're glad to be here, having dinner with you at last," my mother said, too gladly, I thought, considering all we'd left behind.

"I feel sick!" Carolyn announced then. "We just ate on the train and I'm going to throw up all over the place if I have to eat again."

Mom and I looked at each other because Carolyn always felt sick whenever she got to someplace she wasn't sure about. If you didn't watch out, she could make herself sick, too.

"You come with me, young lady," Mom said, and snatched her off to one side. They went to find the room we'd be staying in that night, until we moved to our own cottage down the road the next morning.

I followed everyone into a small dining room where a long wooden table was set for dinner and sat down across from...Elliot, was it? We glanced at each other under cover of the conversation. He was sitting very straight, his spine jammed back against the chair, which was itself set back from the table a bit. I had the strange impression he was trying to disappear.

Grandpa Saunders took up a position at the head of the table, carving fork in one hand, carving knife in the other, a glistening brown roast chicken on a platter in front. Plates were passed down to him, one by one, for slices of meat, then sent over to Grandma, who served up peas, mashed potatoes, and hot rolls.

"Everything's homegrown," she said proudly when my mother came back with Carolyn. "Except the rolls, of course. They're plain home-baked."

Everyone laughed politely, except Elliot. He was staring up again, at the ceiling this time.

"I put up a whole larder of vegetables at the farm last fall, but they're going to have to wait till we get back," my mother said. "To tell the truth, I'm not missing them much."

"Would you like dark meat or light, sonny?" Grandpa called when my turn came to pass up a plate.

"Dark, I guess," I said. I like white meat better but didn't want to sound puny.

"You can't guess about what you like or don't like, sonny. You've got to know!" Grandpa shouted, waving his knife in the air. "Is it light or dark?"

"Dark!" I shouted back.

Grandpa forked a huge chicken leg onto my plate.

"I understand you and your mother didn't have too much luck trying to run that hog farm out there by yourselves," he said, passing the plate over to Grandma. "Bit off a little more than you could chew, is that right?"

"Not really," I said. "We were doing okay. We just couldn't get hired help because of everybody going into the service like Dad, otherwise we would have -- "

"That's what I said!" Grandpa roared. He cut me off so fast I was embarrassed and felt the blood come up in my face.

Across the table, Elliot was having white meat and watching me from under his lids. He was still in that ridiculous straight-backed position. When Aunt Nan asked if he wanted more milk, he said:

"Yes please, Mother, if I could," in a voice that would have been about right for a fancy dinner party in New York.

Then he did something even stranger. He reached across the space between him and the table, took up his knife and fork and, at arm's length, began to cut up his chicken. It looked almost impossible to do, but finally he had a little mound of pieces and started to eat. He'd spear a chicken piece with the tip of his fork and whip it back to his mouth as if he were a bullfrog snapping up a fly.

"What sports do you play?" I asked him after a while.

"I don't play sports," Elliot said. "My knees go out."

"I played football at school this year," I told him. "And a bunch of us play ice hockey in the winter. There's a pond on our farm."

"Ohio has ice in the winter?" Elliot asked. "I thought it was too far south. Doesn't the Mississippi River run through there?"

This was so amazingly stupid I didn't know what to say. Any map could tell you where Ohio was, and that the Mississippi wasn't just a southern river. It flowed through the north, too. It started in the north, for God's sake! I dug into my mashed potatoes and didn't look over at Elliot again.

But while the dishes were being washed in the kitchen and I was roaming around trying to keep clear of Grandpa Saunders, who was on a couch in the front parlor rattling through a newspaper, Elliot appeared suddenly at my side. He asked if I wanted to come up and see his room.

"I could show you something," he said, taking a large bite of his hand.

"Well, all right," I agreed, not very enthusiastically.

The room was up a flight of stairs at the back of the house. It was an attic, really, with a bare light bulb hanging down from the rafters, old floor lamps, wicker chairs, and traveling trunks piled in dusty gloom at the far end. Elliot had one of those fold-up cots for a bed, and a chair, and a table which when I came in had nothing on it but a pad of paper.

"I thought you might want to see this...um ... picture," he said, looking sideways at the pad.

"Okay," I said, and walked across to look.

"It's stupid, I know," Elliot said, backing away and blinking fast. He was about the most nervous person I'd ever met.

It was a drawing done with a plain lead pencil.

"Did you do this?" I asked. It looked too good for a k+id, like something a real artist might draw.

There was Grandpa Saunders with the carving knife raised and his eyes pointy and dangerous behind his spectacles, exactly the way he'd looked bellowing down the dinner table at me. Everything from the angry bulge between his eyebrows to the pattern of white dots on his bow-tie was drawn in. The salt and pepper shakers were in front of him and the bowl of gravy. Grandma's roast chicken was there, hunched down on the platter as if it were trying to take cover, too. It made me laugh a little.

"Did you draw it, really?"

"Yes."

"But when? We just finished dinner."

"A little while ago. Do you like it?"

"Well, yes," I said. "But how did you do it?"

"I don't know, I just did. Do you see what it says underneath?"

Elliot pointed to a line of block lettering written in at the bottom of the drawing. It read, "Bit off more than you could chew, is that right, sonny?"

I burst out laughing. I couldn't help it. Elliot stood by with a cautious smile.

"I'm glad you like it."

I don't know why it's so funny, but it is."

"It's because he made you feel so bad. You have to watch out. He does that."

"I was hoping no one had noticed."

"Don't worry, no one did," Elliot said. "Except me."

Right then was when I realized how I'd underestimated this strange cousin. I shook my head and laughed some more. And Elliot gave a somewhat brighter smile, but warily, as if he wasn't sure he was allowed to.

"I'm sorry I said that crazy thing about the Mississippi River," he said. "I get kind of worried about stuff at the table. Tell me about your farm. It sounds like a pretty good place."

So I sat down and told him how I was going to miss the spring planting out there that year, but I guessed it would get done by somebody. I explained how we grew corn mostly, plus some other crops like wheat, and how hogs and corn sort of go together on a farm, because the hogs get fat eating the corn and then you can sell them for a good price and buy land to plant more corn.

"My dad worked our farm up from nothing," I boasted. "Well, my mother did a lot, too."

"Sounds like things were going great out there until your father had to leave," Elliot said.

"They were," I said. "We were all real happy."

"Too bad my parents couldn't've gone out to stay with you instead of your mother coming here. Then we all could've worked together and you probably could have stayed," Elliot said. He wasn't saying it just to be nice, I could tell. He really wished it had happened.

After a while, neither of us felt like talking anymore. I said I ought to go help my mother carry in a few things from the truck for the night.

"Can I have the drawing?" I asked. "I'll keep it private, don't worry."

"Oh, it's for you," Elliot said. "That's why I drew it."

I folded up the sheet of paper and slid it into my back pocket, where just having it made the edges of my mouth twitch again when later that night, I saw Grandpa coming across the dim dining room on his way to bed.

"Who is that?" he roared out rudely.

"It's Robert," I said.

In the shadows, I saw his mouth close up and tighten. We met and passed without another word.

Copyright © 2000 by Janet Taylor Lisle

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2009

    The Art of Keeping Cool

    A readable children's book that gives us a glimpse into life of a coastal New England town in the spring of 1942. America is still reeling from the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and many wondered if they were still vulnerable to another attack. Robert, the main character, and his mother move to Rhode Island to stay with relatives. German U-boats begin attacking merchant ships within sight of Robert's new home. Is this the beginning of a German invasion? Are there German spies in Rhode Island? Robert seeks to understand his world, his neighbor's lives, and many family secrets.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Not that great

    I didn't really like this book. Although there was suspence nothing actually happened. Even though it sounded like there could be action it was kind of a snoozer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2010

    Can't wait!

    I cannot wait to read this book. I previously read Sirens and Spies by this author Janet Taylor Lisle and I honestly think she is a very intelligent writer. The whole story sounds very entertaining to me!! - Anonymous.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2008

    Interesting story! , A teacher and a bookworm

    In this story, Robert moves to Rhode Island with his mother and sister to live near his grandparents during the war and he meets his cousin Elliot. He has to learn 'the art of keeping cool' as he deals with his father flying dangerous missions, a German artist who befriends his cousin and the secrets the family has been keeping for a long time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2007

    Excellent on two levels

    A great story told very well. In addition to using this book for literature circles, it might be an excellent way to teach students about what life was like during WWII. I really enjoyed this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2004

    This is an excellent book.

    I found the book very interesting. The characters were very different from the ordinary people.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2003

    Awesome book

    The Art of Keeping Cool was exciting because it wasn't your typical book. There was hints of mystery, some friendship, and dark family secrets undiscovered by Robert and his cousin Elliot. They are staying with their grandparents in Rhode Island due to Robert's father's involvement in the war. Robert is there because his family lost their house. The book also had some unlikely people like the german artist in the woods who has secrets of his own. Over all, a very interesting and unique story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2003

    EXCELLENT BOOK

    YOU GUYS HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!!!! IT IS SOOO AWESOME! I LOVED IT!! :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2002

    The Art of Keeping Cool

    Robert, his mom, and his sister move from their farm in Ohio to a cabin in Rhode Island when their dad goes to Europe to do bombing raids during World War II. The cabin is right down the road from Robert's grandparents, his aunt and uncle, and his cousin Elliot. Two huge guns are brought to the nearby fort to attack German subs. Elliot who is a good drawer draws many things that he sees. One day they were walking home to draw the guns they passed a German artist named Abel who Elliot knew. Elliot eventually started learning how to paint from Abel. Their grandpa was always giving them a hard time so they avoided him by going to Abel's house an other things. Abel had been aressted twice in the book because he was German. He gave Elliot his best painting because he thought something would happen and it did. Some people burned down his house and he ran in and died with his paintings. Robert later got news that his dad's plane was shot down. His dad and grandpa didn't like eachother either which leads to something. To find out what happened when his dad was young, if his dad is ok, and Elliot's future read the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews

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