By Author / Illustrator
Andersen Press Ltd
Paperback / softback
While the Storm Rages is the eagerly awaited new novel from the bestselling author of When the Sky Falls: The Times Children's Book of the Year, winner of the Books Are My Bag Readers Award for Children's Fiction, winner of the British Book Award for Children's Fiction Book of the Year and shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal.
September 1939. The world is on the brink of war. As his dad marches off to fight, Noah makes him a promise, to keep their beloved family dog safe. When the government advises people to have their pets put down in readiness for the chaos of war, hundreds of thousands of people do as they are told. But not Noah. He's not that sort of boy. With his two friends in tow, he goes on the run, to save his dog and as many animals as he can. No matter what.
Last year, Phil Earle's debut, When the Sky Falls, garnered huge praise and was one of my favourite books of the year. This always makes me a little nervous reading a second book, in case I don't like it as much, but I need not have worried.
In While the Storm Rages, 12-year-old Noah's dad joins up in the period just before World War 2 begins. He asks Noah to promise to look after the dog, Winn, and in return promises to come back. It is these two promises that make the crux of the story because, as war begins, the government asks people to put pets down. Noah of course, having made a promise cannot do that. Instead, he sets out with his friend Clem and her dog Frank to rescue the animals.
This is a book that starts as a crazy idea by Noah, and builds momentum until you simply cannot put it down. I'm not a huge animal lover, but the assorted animals in this book become characters in their own right and the reader is rooting for their success, along with the children.
I have to confess, I did need a tissue by the end. The story is emotional and shows that courage comes in many forms. It is not without some shocking twists and extremely difficult moments. The brooding colours on the cover by Levente Szabo seem to capture the darkness at the heart of the story, knowing what the war will be like. Whilst being in essence a historical novel, it does not fit easily into the list, for whilst it is historical, it is also an adventure of extraordinary proportions that will make you think, how far will you go for your pets?
384 pages / Reviewed by Jacqueline Harris, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 9+
In the summer of 1939, Noah's dad leaves to join the army and makes Noah promise to look after his dog, Winn. Noah takes the responsibility to heart, believing that keeping the dog safe will keep his father safe, too. Then war is declared and the government advises people to have their pets put down to spare them the trauma of wartime Britain. Noah's mum is adamant that Winn must go. Noah hatches a reckless plan to find a sanctuary where their dogs can survive the war and persuades his best friend, Clem, to join him and save her dog too. Soon they've been joined by the school bully, a donkey, a python and two kittens and are sailing down the Thames in a rusty boat.
Noah is a flawed hero, prone to making naive and impulsive decisions that nearly spell disaster for them all, but he is redeemed by his courage and determination. Clem is more measured and her powerful intelligence and encyclopedic knowledge save the day a number of times but even that isn't enough to head off all the problems that beset them. Their headstrong devotion to their dogs is the emotional core of the book and bound to tug at the heartstrings of any children who love their pets.
The story also provides an adventurous plot that gallops along as the children encounter challenge after challenge. The reader has to keep turning the pages to find out whether the tenacious and resilient pair can possibly continue on their mercy mission against the odds.
This poignant and exciting journey tale fits snugly alongside other stories set against the backdrop of the Second World War, like Letters from a Lighthouse, Anna at War, The Valley of Lost Secrets, The Emergency Zoo and even The Secret Guardians. I would thoroughly recommend it as an engaging class read and addition to the School Library and book corners.
384 pages / Reviewed by Louisa Farrow, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 9+