Jamie McEwan's The Heart of Cool
illustrated by Sandra Boynton
Book review by Monica Friedman
Sandra Boynton Illustrates an Easy Reader That Is Actually Cool
This book is the rarest combination of concepts: it's an early reader that is not in the least bit stupid, but actually relevant to the experience of a grade school student; it talks about the lives of children in a way that children will find believable even as adults can pick out deeper meaning in the text; and the moral is useful without being preachy or hitting anyone on the head.
Plus, it's got those eminently recognizable Sandra Boynton animal illustrations to add a little visual humor to the story. Review continues.
Bobby North, a polar bear, transfers schools and finds himself, "the smallest guy in the class," with clothes and interests that are decidedly "not cool."
"OK," Bobby says, "so what is cool?"
By general consensus, the coolest kid in school is a moose named Harry Haller who "was never scared, or worried, or embarrassed. He always knew the right thing to say, and whatever happened, he always knew the right thing to do." He wears sunglasses and a scarf inside, says things like "yo," and "What's up?" to the principal, and does "unbelievable stunts on his skateboard." Even when he falls, he just bounces back and laughs.
Bobby embarks on a mission to emulate Harry Haller in every way, and eventually succeeds, getting folded into the circle of cool kids.
But the story is smart enough not to stop there. Bobby doesn't "want people to just think he was cool. He wanted to be truly cool, totally cool, cool all the way down to the core." His life becomes a pursuit of coolness, until the day that he actually finds the heart of cool, chilling out so completely that he fails to get up for recess and finally catches the attention of the king himself. Harry Haller is the one who recognizes that the behavior everyone else reacts to like a catatonic trance is the ultimate goal. "Congratulations, Bobby," he says. "You did it, you're there, you've arrived.
Now Bobby is so cool that he doesn't have to rely on copying Harry. He discards the sunglasses and other trappings of coolness: "He didn't have to try to be cool. He was already cool." This makes Bobby a target.
Siggy, a crabby warthog kid, continually challenges his coolness. Being cool, Bobby is inclined not to care, until he's talked into entering a skateboarding competition on Harry Haller's half-pipe, because "not giving it a try is not cool."
Bobby's performance on the half-pipe is not designed to please anyone but himself, which in itself might not be a problem, until he gets so deep into the heart of cool that he forgets all about the laws of physics. And here is the lovely conclusion to the book. Bobby, Harry, and Siggy dissect the events of the evening and determine what it truly means to be cool. Skateboarding to please yourself is cool. Forgetting what you're doing and jumping the rail into a hedge is not cool. The coolest part, really, and the message that kids can take away from the book, is that no matter what happens, you get up, dust yourself off, evaluate your own behavior honestly, and learn from your mistakes. THAT'S The Heart Of Cool.
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