While the Storm Rages

Authored by Phil Earle
Published by Andersen Press

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Noah and his father share two passions – the old boat Queen Maudie, moored on the Thames in Limehouse Basin, and their dog Winn. It is 1939 and as the story begins, Noah’s father explains that he is going away to fight in the war. He asks Noah to be strong for his mother and to look after Winn until he returns, promising that after the war they will completely refurbish the old boat. Being separated from his father is difficult enough for Noah, but when he hears that the government are evacuating children to the countryside and that all pets that cannot be relocated to safe areas should be put down, he has to take action. With Clem, his clever and encyclopaedic friend, and an unlikely companion, Big Col, the class bully, Noah sets out to save Winn, Clem’s dachshund Frank and Big Col’s python Delilah – and other animals that join them on the journey – from being killed. Finding that Battersea Dogs Home cannot take any more animals, the three children decide to take the boat Queen Maudie to try to find a duchess named Nina Douglas-Hamilton who is giving refuge to threatened animals. They don’t know exactly where she lives but think it’s somewhere on the Thames near Windsor.

This pacy narrative is not only about courage and stubbornness, but about friendship, coping with tragedy, keeping promises and learning how to forgive. The three children face difficulty after difficulty in trying to find safety for their animal companions and meet life-threatening dangers as well as surprising encounters which open up questions about the moralities associated with war. This is another of Phil Earle’s enthralling page-turners and is likely to be another success with readers in upper KS2, as well as teachers, as it gives an unusual insight into the history of everyday life during World War Two. Most of all, however, this book is about relationships: Noah’s relationship with his fiery mother is tested as is her strength in being separated from both her husband and son; his friendship with Clem is stretched almost to breaking point on their journey and he discovers that Big Col’s bullying has a root cause in the way he is treated at home.

As often in children’s books, adults are side-lined until their interventions are necessary to rescue the children from a truly dangerous escapade, and although I was totally immersed in the story, I found the resolution a little unconvincing. When discussing the book in class there is certainly scope for considering class and gender stereotypes. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable read which has subtle undercurrents reflecting on the effects of war, the responsibilities we have to others, and about making promises, all of which offer opportunities for discussion and further investigation into pacifism as well as the work of Nina Douglas-Hamilton and others who have been advocates for animals in times of conflict.

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