Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders
|Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Robert James|
|Summary: Heartbreaking sequel to a timeless classic, which somehow improves on the original. Absolutely stunning, massively recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: October 2014|
|Publisher: Faber & Faber|
Shortlisted for the 2016 CILIP Carnegie Medal
Winner of the Costa Children's Book Award 2014
Shortlisted for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2015
Nearly ten years after Squirrel, Panther, Bobs and Puss last saw the Psammead, the sand fairy returns. But the world is in a state of upheaval, and with the now grown-up children contributing to the war effort, it's left to The Lamb, a teenager, and new arrival 9-year-old Edie to look after their visitor and save him from prying eyes. In addition to the horrors of the war, there are revelations for the six siblings about their old companion's past - why has he returned, and is there a reason he can't grant wishes any longer?
Sequels always make me a little nervous, sequels to books written around a century ago and which I've read half a dozen times even more so. Thankfully, this is a stunning story which holds its own when compared to Nesbit's wonderful books about the characters. The Psammead is undoubtedly the star, and is much more developed a character here than he was in those earlier stories, while still being completely recognisable. He's vain, grumpy, and quick to take offense, but there's also a darker side to him that's revealed as the story progresses. Even though this took me by surprise originally, it's absolutely believable as an extension of Nesbit's character and I have to think that she'd have been impressed by Saunders's treatment of old favourites here.
Will it work for readers unfamiliar with the first books? I think it will (although I'd still suggest tracking them down to read first; they're still in print and have held up wonderfully well for their age.) Whether or not you know the older story, you won't be confused as Saunders gets the necessary information across quickly without ever feeling like she's dumping information onto the reader, and you'd need a heart of stone not to be moved. I cried for the first time on page 9 (that's before chapter one even starts!); the last line of the prologue is one of the most heartbreaking things I've read in ages.
There is an overwhelming amount of books about the First World War being released this year to mark the occasion of the 100th anniversary of war breaking out; of those I've read, this is definitely the best. Massively recommended.
The other wonderful World War One story I've read recently is the outstanding Valentine Joe by Rebecca Stevens. Fans of thought-provoking and deeply moving children's fiction will also surely love Girl With A White Dog by Anne Booth.
You can read more book reviews or buy Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders at Amazon.com.
Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders is in the Costa Book Awards 2014.
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