Five Children on the Western Front

Five Children on the Western Front, by Kate Saunders

I was fortunate to have a mom who went to the UK recently and picked up a copy of this award-winning children's book--which is not yet available here in the US.  It's a sequel to E. Nesbit's classic Five Children and It (and two following stories), in which five very ordinary Edwardian children find a Psammead--a sand-fairy--which grants wishes.  It's a wonderful story, and funny to boot.  (You can read a bit about E. Nesbit at my 2013 post.)

Those children were just the right age to grow up in time for World War I, and Kate Saunders decided to write the story.  She adds another, younger sibling born after the Psammead stories; Edie is nine, a couple of years younger than the Lamb, and young enough to be the center of the story.

Just as war is breaking out in 1914, Edie and the Lamb discover the Psammead in the old familiar gravel-pit.  But the Psammead is unhappy and confused; his magic is gone and he is feeling his age.  As the older siblings become embroiled in war, the Psammead realizes that although he was once a "desert god," he is being ordered to repent.  It takes nearly four years for him to do so, as the older siblings re-enact events from his long-ago days of power and he comes to sympathize with the people he wronged.

It's a good novel, and it also gives an accurate picture of World War I--it came out last year for the 100th anniversary.  I got well involved with the story and teary in places.  So I do recommend it; it's a good book.  My daughter, a Nesbit loyalist, enjoyed it very much and has been bugging me to get around to reading it.

Now, I will say however that Saunders takes the Psammead in a different direction than I think Nesbit imagined.  She casts him as having once had an entire (if small) kingdom, and that's not really how I imagine the Psammead.  This is pretty much OK in this case, because it's quite well done.

It doesn't feel like a money grab or a celebrity children's book, which I think is important.  I mean, I'd never tell you to read the celebrity-written Peter Rabbit sequel.  This feels more like a labor of love and a genuine novel written for love.

The five children and the Psammead live in Kent.  How I have not yet read a book set in Kent this year I do not know, but here is one!


  1. What do you think is the correct age range for this novel. It sounds very good.

  2. It's not a difficult novel, but it's got people losing legs and things in the war. I'd say 9 and up.

  3. I'm really looking forward to reading this, as you know! I agree that after-the-fact sequels tend to turn me off, but occasionally a really good one shows up. Have you read Hilary McKay's Wishing for Tomorrow? It's a sequel to A Little Princess, and it's a dear of a book.

  4. Yes, we have it--my mom gave it to my daughter, so it came pre-approved (my mom is as picky as I am). I agree, it's really nice.

  5. Funny, I also had my mom bring me this from the UK! I started it but got annoyed by the inconsistencies with Nesbit in the first few pages and stopped reading. This is quite unfair as Nesbit was not notably consistent even within her own books, so I should really give it another chance.


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