When the Sky Falls

by Phil Earle (Author)

When the Sky Falls
Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

A boy and a gorilla create an unbelievable bond in this powerful WWII tale for young readers, for fans of Alan Gratz and Michael Morpugo.

"A wonderful story of hurt, kindness, and what it means to be human in an inhumane world." -The Times of London, Children's Book of the Year

In 1940, with his father off to war, Joseph is sent on a train out of his British town into the care of Mrs. F., a gruff woman with no great fondness for children. But he soon discovers her softer side when she takes him to the rundown city zoo and he learns she is the only one who ever checks in on it. Many of the animals have escaped, been released, or have sadly starved . . . but not Adonis, a huge silverback gorilla. Adonis is strong and ferocious-and a danger to the whole city if a bomb should fall and damage the fence that keeps him in. But as Joseph struggles in his new school and starts to spend more time at the zoo, he finds, unexpectedly, Adonis becoming a loyal new friend. From acclaimed author Phil Earle comes a touching historical fiction story of how a boy and a gorilla find redemption in each other amid the toughest of circumstances.

Kirkus Reviews

Earle has readers rooting for stubborn Joseph, charmed by his new friend, Syd, and touched by Adonis' impressive strength and depth of feeling. . . . An unusual, moving war story with excellent writing and compelling characters.


Starred Review
A gripping wartime story that moves the soul. 

Publishers Weekly

In 1941 Britain, following his father's conscription and the effects of his own explosive anger, 12-year-old Joseph Palmer is sent from Yorkshire to bombed-out London to live with gruff Mrs. F, caretaker of her family's deteriorating zoo. Capable Mrs. F struggles to keep the remaining animals alive, particularly "the pride of the zoo"--a silverback gorilla named Adonis, to whom, after a disastrous first meeting, Joseph takes an immediate dislike. Despite his burgeoning friendship with a classmate who assists at the zoo, school represents difficulties for Joseph, as he navigates bullies, a cruel schoolmaster, and severe dyslexia in addition to exhausting, almost nightly air raids. Solace from this unrelentingly bleak existence appears in an unlikely form, as the child slowly gains the gorilla's trust and it becomes clear that Joseph is not the only one battling the pain of loss. Equal parts gripping and emotionally devastating, Earle's (The Bubble Wrap Boy) detail-rich novel explores the healing power of hard-won interspecies friendship amid a harrowing depiction of wartime grief and resilience. Characters cue as white. Ages 9-11. Agent: Jodie Hodges, United Agents (U.K.). (Apr.)

Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 3-7--It's the 1940s in London and Joseph, who is cued white, has just gotten off the train headed into the city--the opposite direction from all the fleeing children and families. Troubled Joseph is 12 years old and has recently been sent to stay in the city with Mrs. F. by his grandmother during World War II. When Joseph arrives, he learns he will be helping Mrs. F. protect the zoo she runs and the troubled silverback ape, Adonis. In an unsettling time in history, Mrs. F. and Joseph share their dark pasts and learn to grow through their love of Adonis. This book is great for middle grade students and brings a lot of tough topics to the forefront for discussion: war, dyslexia in the 1940s, death, and more. In the afterword, readers learn the book is based on a true story told to Earle from a dear friend. This is an emotionally charged novel that will help readers understand life during war. Earle skillfully builds reader investment in the relationship Joseph develops with Mrs. F. and Adonis, and his growth as a young person. This is a story that will have tweens captivated by true world events from the past that are also pertinent to current times. The writing is superb: simple yet detailed enough to allow readers to travel through time and have a light understanding of what it was like to live through war and the Blitz. VERDICT As always, Earle delivers a tale that can accompany any book set during World War II yet brings something new with the addition of unique characters and an uncommon approach to the time period. Recommended for all collections.--Maeve Dodds

Copyright 2022 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"An extraordinary story with historical and family truth at its heart, that tells us as much about the present as the past. Deeply felt, movingly written; a remarkable achievement." —Michael Morpugo, author of War Horse

"I knew I was going to love it from the opening lines." —Printz-winning author Marcus Sedgwick

"Phil Earle writes from the heart: a story about love and friendship and how animals can connect people in the darkest of times and allow them to heal." —Gill Lewis, author of Wild Wings

"Complex, dark, intense and mysterious, When the Sky Falls is an astounding work of fiction. The characters have the knotty awkwardness of real people, and the whole book has that unfakeable feeling of truth." —Anthony McGowen, Carnegie Medal-winning author of Lark

"The novel leans heavily into the theme of personal relationships and is suitably action packed." —School Library Connection

"A wonderful story of hurt, kindness, and what it means to be human in an inhumane world." —The Times of London

Phil Earle

Phil Earle was born and raised in the north of England and is the author of twenty acclaimed, award-winning books for children and teenagers. He has worked as a caretaker, a drama therapist, a bookseller, and a publisher, and loves talking at schools and festivals around the world. He lives on the side of a very steep hill with his partner, their five children and two dogs.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
April 20, 2022

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