Friday, September 11, 2009

The art of keeping cool

Title: The art of keeping cool

Author: Janet Taylor Lisle

Publisher: Aladdin Historical Fiction

Copyright Date: 2000

Print Date: May 2002

ISBN: 0689837887

Pages: 244


Scott O'Dell Award, winner, 2001
Riverbank Review Book of Distinction, winner, 2001
ALA Notable Children's Book
Horn Book Fanfare
Junior Library Guild Selection
Scholastic Book Club Selection

Book Description (from dust jacket):


Fear permeates the Rhode Island coastal town where Robert, his mother, and sister are living out the war with his paternal grandparents: Fear of Nazi submarines offshore. Fear of Abel Hoffman, a German artist living reclusively outside of town. And for Robert, a more personal fear, of his hot-tempered, controlling grandfather.

As Robert watches the townspeople's hostility toward Hoffman build, he worries about his sensitive cousin Elliot's friendship with the artist. And he wonders more and more about the family secret everyone seems to be keeping from him — a secret involving Robert's father, a bomber pilot in Europe. Will Elliot's ability to detach himself from the turmoil around him be enough to sustain him when prejudice and suspicions erupt into violence? And can Robert find his own way to deal with the shocking truth about his family's past?


This is a find from the library's book sale room. I had already decided I wanted to read this after The Hunter's Moon, but the timing worked out better than planned. The story is based around an American costal town in 1942 (it actually starts the month my grandmother was born) - not long after Pearl Harbor was bombed. And it's the perfect book for 9/11. We're talking a people that are upset and anxious about what's happening in their country. Patriotism is at a peak; along with high patriotism comes high suspicion and and prejudice.

In the story, a German artist is the victim of this prejudice. He's looked at as the "enemy" just as (from what I heard, I didn't witness any) so many incidents happened to innocent Middle Eastern Americans and others living in America after 9/11.

At the end of the book an author has a note that discusses the inspiration for the story, which details really happened, and goes over the appropriateness of the book for children. Regarding this last point, Janet Taylor Lisle emphasises one scene...

"'Please Abel. Tell us what happened to you over there. We should know.'

'You should NOT KNOW!' Abel said angrily. 'Who should know such things. Not children."

'Yes, we should,' Elliot pleaded. 'In case it happens again. Here, even.'
Lisle's point wasn't exactly the same as mine since this was first published a little more than a year before 9/11. But I think this book is an excellent example of what can happen with a mixture of a very scary and tragic event, high tension, and the resulting prejudice.

Anyway, as far as that goes - it was a good story. As far as the grandfather goes, Lisle did an excellent job of making me just as frustrated and upset about him and the denial/silence of the rest of the family as Robert felt.

I'm going to have to look into reading some more of her books.

1 comment:

Please feel free to comment. I love to hear from you!

Comments on posts older than 6 days are moderated.