Book Review, Middle Grade Fiction

While the Storm Rages by Phil Earle

Phil Earle has done it again, firmly cementing his place as one of the foremost authors of historical fiction for children. His powerful stories are destined to become classics with their honesty and relatable characters who portray the heart of everyday people in the uncertainty of war.

While the Storm Rages is an emotion-driven story, full of the strength of children in crisis – the story of a boy’s love for his dog in the midst of a crumbling world and far too many goodbyes.

Set in London at the dawn of the Second World War, Noah’s life becomes a combination of waiting and what ifs as his father enlists. All Noah has to hold onto is a promise – if Noah keeps his beloved dog Winn safe, his father will stay safe and return to them. As war is declared, Noah is devastated to read the government guidance that all pets should be humanely destroyed and children are to be evacuated. There is no way he can let Winn go and fail to keep his promise.

With the help of his best friend Clem, her elderly dachshund Frank, the local bully Big Col and his pet python Delilah, Noah embarks on a runaway rescue mission. If only he can get the pets to a wealthy animal-loving duchess in the countryside, he knows they’ll be safe. Along the way, this unlikely trio and their animal companions face unforetold dangers. They are forced to discover what it means to be brave and just what they’re made of. Responsibility for another living thing proves to be more than they ever realised – food, water, warmth, safety… things they once took for granted are now everything.

So often, stories of war focus on the impact on people and nations. Like When the Sky Falls, While the Storm Rages explores what happened to the animals when war reached British shores. They weren’t welcome in air raid shelters, the bombs would terrify them and there would be hardly enough food for people, let alone cats and dogs. What the government didn’t consider in their advice was the passion of children for their pets. One of the most important things in the world to a child is their canine or feline companion. To these little people (and many adults as well), these creatures are so much more than animals – they are members of the family, loved fiercely and protected above all else. This story is a horror of war children will understand.

Suitable for a slightly younger audience than When the Sky Falls, children from Year 3 upwards would engage well with this story. There is so much scope for discussion. Was the government right in their advice? Should Noah have runaway with the animals? What would you do in this situation? Adults need to be aware that the book includes sensitively described animal death and parts of the adventure are quite tense. There is a real sadness that children may find challenging as they become a part of the story. This opportunity for the development of empathy will be powerful.

I am so grateful to Andersen Press for an early copy of this incredible book. I’m looking forward to seeing it enjoyed by children and adults when it is published in June 2022 and will be very interested to see how teachers make use of this valuable story in the classroom.

Click on the covers below to find out more or purchase on-line from Amazon or bookshop.org.

Books by Kate Heap:

Contemporary Children’s Literature: Years 3/4

Nonfiction: Years 5/6

Nonfiction: Years 3/4

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