Friday, 18 September 2015

Five Children On The Western Front - Kate Saunders

Five Children On The Western Front - Kate Saunders
ISBN -  9780571310951
Publisher - Faber & Faber
Release date - October 2 2014

Have you ever wondered what happened to the Five Children and It characters when the First World War began?

Cyril is off to fight, Anthea is at art college, Robert is a Cambridge scholar and Jane is at high school. The Lamb is the grown up age of 11, and he has a little sister, Edith, in tow. The sand fairy has become a creature of stories ... until he suddenly reappears. The siblings are pleased to have something to take their minds off the war, but this time the Psammead is here for a reason, and his magic might have a more serious purpose.

Before this last adventure ends, all will be changed, and the two younger children will have seen the Great War from every possible viewpoint - factory-workers, soldiers and sailors, nurses and the people left at home, and the war's impact will be felt right at the heart of their family

I have been a huge fan of E. Nesbit and her work since my mother first read Five Children and It to me when I was tiny. I've read the original trilogy countless times so when I heard that there was a continuation of the story being published I was horrified, for want of a better word. I'm not a fan of most of these modern retellings of children's classics that people assume children need because the originals are too old fashioned. Despite my hesitation I bought and have owned Five Children On The Western Front since it was published in late 2014, unread until I picked it up earlier this week needing something to boot me out of the mini slump I seem to have found myself in. It worked!

I'm still not a fan of modern interpretations but Kate Saunders somehow managed to tap into Nesbit's voice perfectly and it was almost impossible to tell at times that this wasn't written by one of the first (and best) authors for children herself.

We've skipped ahead a decade and along with Cyril, Robert, Anthea, Jane and The Lamb (real name Hilary!) the Pemberton family has been joined by Edie, narrator for most of the book. It's now the first world war and Cyril is heading off to fight, Robert is at Cambridge, Anthea is at art school and it's a tumultuous period in history. The Psammead is all but forgotten, becoming a family myth, until he suddenly reappears at the bottom of the garden.

Realizing that he has reappeared for a reason, apparently to repent for all his evil deeds when he was a minor god in ancient times, both the Psammead or Sammy as he comes to be known in Cyril's letters home, and the children (mostly Edie and The Lamb thanks to being the only two left at home) set out to discover just why he's reappeared now. Five Children On The Western Front is a much darker book in terms of both story and tone. with the war hanging over the family personally, Cyril getting ready to fight and Anthea becoming a women's volunteer in the hospital it's a constant reminder that despite magic and wishes and traveling through time & space real life is brutal.

Kate Saunders has written a heartbreaking yet beautiful companion novel, one that I will definitely be revisiting in the future - maybe after reading the original trilogy, although I think having a gap of a few years between reading The Story of the Amulet was beneficial as any obvious differences in voice weren't as clear cut, at least to me. Five Children On The Western Front won the Costa Book Award For Children which was hugely deserved, especially as it made me have a tear in my eye for most of the book.

Further Reading

Five Children & It
The Phoenix & The Carpet
The Story Of The Amulet

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