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Extended Audio Sample The Art of Keeping Cool, by Janet Taylor Lisle Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (292 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Janet Taylor Lisle Narrator: Charles Carroll Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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It’s World War II, and fear permeates the Rhode Island coastal town where Robert, his mother, and sister are living out the war with his paternal grandparents. It is 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 the friendship that his sensitive cousin Elliot has 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?

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Engrossing, challenging, and well-paced, the novel holds up a mirror to society—for those who dare to look.”

    Horn Book (starred review)

  • “As apt at writing historical fiction as she is at penning fantasy, Lisle 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.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Two stunning tragedies are at the center of this story of the WWII home front. Lisle deftly uses the first two chapters to introduce characters and setting…Surrounding the two tragedies, which are never far from the surface, is a finely woven web of secrets, suspicions, prejudice, and fear…Characters are interestingly developed…Briskly plotted, emotionally complex, brutal in incident yet delicately nuanced in the telling, a fine historical fiction.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • “Hidden family secrets are the main theme of this novel set during WWII in a small Rhode Island town on the Atlantic…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.”


  • “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…This is a heartfelt story about family dynamics and the harmful power of prejudice and hatred.”

    School Library Journal

  • “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.”


  • “This 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… 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.’”


  • “No happy ending here, but the reader will find a believable and satisfactory resolution.”

    Children’s Literature

  • “Lisle’s novel 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.”

    School Library Journal (audio review)

  • “The naval guns sent to coastal Rhode Island in 1942 may have been enormous, but the issues about to face cousins Elliot and Robert are equally monumental…Charles Carroll takes on the role of the adult Robert recounting the events during these war years. He’s even voiced, letting layers of the various familial and town relationships reveal themselves and letting listeners draw their own conclusions. A German painter and a bullying grandfather, both with secrets, impact each boy dramatically. At the climactic moment when the eleven-year-olds and the painter confront paranoia, hatred, and horror, Carroll’s voice takes on strength and resonance. Listeners will have much to ponder.”


  • Winner of the 2001 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction
  • An ALA Notable Book for 2001
  • A Horn Book Fanfare Best Book for 2001

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Jennifer | 2/11/2014

    " another young adult book that deals with adolescence during WWII while dad is away fighting. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Jessica | 2/10/2014

    " Engaging story of a boy living on the Rhode Island coast during World War II and the German painter in his area who faces persecution. All of the relationships are well drawn, and the protagonist is flawed without being too annoying. Pretty intense reading for a sixth-grader (suicide), but suspenseful and thought-provoking (for kids who haven't read much about discrimination and taking sides before). "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Lynelle | 2/9/2014

    " I taught this book to my enriched English class. This book is well written and has many themes that are great for further discussions in a middle school classroom. This novel takes place during World War II in a small New England town. The local German artist becomes the target of the town's prejudice and suspicion due to his nationality. We read this shortly before we read Anne Frank. It was a great lead in to the idea of judging someone superficially (something middle schoolers tend to know a lot about!). It was worth a read even if it hadn't been for academics. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Marc Kohlman | 2/6/2014

    " I LOVED this book!!! Read it my Junior year of high school for my own pleasure and found it really enjoyable. I am a huge fan of historical fiction and young adult coming-of-age stories and this one was one of the best I ever read. I admire one of the primary characters, Elliot, for his devotion to his love of drawing and the risk he took in seeking the German artist's help in drawing. He was taking a dangerous one, which his cousin Robert advised against even. Both boys find their own ways of keeping cool during the WWII period. They're both tested and pulled between their own ways of staying calm in such tense circumstances and what they want. For anyone interested in fiction stories set in WWII, coming-of-age, deception and mystery- this is a book you should definitely read. "

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