Review: Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

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Five Children on the Western Front is a sequel to the classic children’s novel, Five Children and It (written by E. Nesbit). Set in the 1910s, when the original five children have become teenagers and young adults, it is a beautifully written story of the hardships and happiness of family life in the time of The Great War.

At the start of the book (nine years from the end of Five Children and It) there is a new child in the family, Edith, who was born after the original adventures with the Psammead (an ancient sand fairy). Edith and Hillary (aka the Lamb) are in their garden one day when they discover the Psammead hidden in the gravel pit! With World War I beginning and their elder brother Cyril going off to fight, the atmosphere in their home is tense; will the Psammead’s appearance be the solution to their troubles, or will he just add to them?

Just before Cyril leaves for war, the “Bigguns” (the four eldest children) and Hillary and Edith discover that the Psammead has lost the power to grant wishes that he used to have, and he tells them that some sort of violent magical upheaval has sent him back to their gravel pit. As the story unfolds the Pemberton children help the Psammead to uncover the reason that he has been sent back to them, and as this happens, many of the events from the Psammead’s early life seem to reflect similar events in the children’s lives.

One of the things I loved about this book is the way that you can feel the underlying theme of family love throughout the story. The Pembertons clearly care for each other and the Psammead, as well as relying on each other. This is summed up by this quote from Jane:

“I think you were attracted to us because we were happy and we loved each other. It sounds like a small thing, but I can see now that it’s the biggest thing in the world.”

Although this book is set in the time of the war and there are lots of tragic moments, there is also a lot of excellent humour for example:

The Psammead said, “I am undergoing certain uncomfortable feelings – it feels quite a lot like trapped wind, but Edie says it’s remorse.”

Another brilliant feature of the book is that it has a prologue (9 years before the start of the story) and an epilogue (14 years after the end of the story) so there are no questions about the children’s past or future life left unanswered; also, this gave the story a definite starting and ending point.

This was one of the best books I’ve ever read. I completely agree with the quote on the front of the book that says it is a modern classic. I think it would appeal equally to boys and girls of 9 and above. 5 out of 5 stars.

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