Five Children on the Western Front

Kate Saunders
AUD $19.99

An incredible, heart-wrenching sequel to E. Nesbit's Five Children and It, set on the eve of the First World War. The five children have grown up - war will change their lives for ever.

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.

Author bio:

Kate Saunders is a full-time author and journalist and has written numerous books for adults and children. Her books for children have won awards and received rave reviews, and include future classics such as Beswitched and The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop. Kate is a true storyteller and her magical, wickedly hilarious novels allow young readers to escape their everyday lives into wonderful worlds where children are empowered to explore and enjoy themselves. Kate lives in London.

Category: Children's fiction
ISBN: 9780571310951
Publisher: Faber
Imprint: Faber Child Trade
Pub Date: November 2014
Page Extent: 240
Format: Hard Cover
Age: 9 - 12
Subject: Children's fiction

Teachers reviews

In this new title, author Kate Saunders has resurrected the Pemberton family that E. Nesbit introduced readers to in 1902 in the classic Five Children and It and its sequels. But now the children have grown up - Cyril is off to fight, Anthea is at Art College, Robert is a Cambridge scholar and Jane is at high school. Lamb is now 11 years old and there is a younger sister, Edie. They are back at the White House where they first found the Psammead but when Edie and Lamb find him in the gravel pit he is not the strong, robust character that they have heard so much about. He is as vain and grumpy as ever but there is something wrong with his magic, so the success of wish-granting is somewhat sporadic. To keep himself safe and well, he comes to live with the children in a sand-filled bathtub in the attic and Edie and Lamb take care of him.

It seems that in his ancient past, the Psammead (aka Sammy) had been somewhat of a tyrant and despot and only if he repents his acts (which he continues to justify and has no contrition) will he be restored to health. Saunders’ exploration of that through Professor Jimmy’s research and what happens to the children shows parallels to what is happening in the world in 1914. Through occasional wishes that work, the children visit the Western Front seeing the conditions which Cyril, and later Robert, are enduring as well as Anthea who becomes a nurse’s aide. It begins with a 1905 prologue in which the Psammead transports Cyril, Robert, Anthea, Jane and Lamb 25 years into the future. For the astute reader, what is revealed (and concealed) sets the rest of the story up - “I wish I had more time to look at the photographs of us in the future,” Anthea said thoughtfully…” I saw a couple of pictures of ladies who looked a bit like Mother… But I didn’t see any grown-up men … I wonder why not.”

Even though it is a lengthy book, it’s suitable for newly independent readers, particularly those who have enjoyed Five Children and It, and it gives an insight into how the war impacted on families left at home. Some of the things they do and say are very British upper class and will reinforce the stereotype, but on the whole, this is a successful reincarnation that really helps today’s readers understand what went on in a gentle way and much more effectively than facts, figures and statistics. While the violence is not graphic, those with any understanding of what went on in France can fill in the gaps. It brings the saga of the Psammead to a close and even though he has shown himself to be a rather unlikeable character in the past, his redemption is complete in the final scenes.

Such is the quality of the book it has been awarded the Costa children’s book award which honours some of the most outstanding books of the year written by authors based in the UK and Ireland. A very worthy addition to your collection of World War 1 related books.
Barbara Braxton, Teacher Librarian, Cooma NSW 2630

When E. Nesbitt’s Five Children and It was published in 1902, it was widely acclaimed. Two sequels soon followed, The Phoenix and the Carpet and The Story of the Amulet, tracing the adventures of the five children and their friend, the last sand fairy on earth, the Psammead aka Sammy. Parents are rarely seen, an old nurse watches over them, and a dinner gong calls them for tea, recalling a time where children were left to their own devices, a time for picnics and baskets of food, of private schools and governesses, of parents who were mysteriously absent for a period of time, allowing the children even more freedom.

This sequel, a further story about the five children set ten years later when war threatens their lives, has their old companion reappear. He is thousands of years old, and knows what will happen to them all. He can grant wishes, although his powers are strangely diminished, but he is there to farewell Cyril as he heads off for war on the Western Front.

I found I kept reading this with a smile on my face as the children and Sammy wriggled their way into my consciousness. Sammy is a wonderful character: funny, forthright and assertive, his needs override the children’s as he makes continuous demands.  Like ET, the Psammead simply wants to get home, so the children take him to the British Museum to see if he recognises any of the ancient exhibits. In the Sumerian room are images that look just like him, and they bump into Ernie, a soldier who loves ancient things. Surprisingly, they are all friends of the professor, Jimmy, and go to his house where they plan to help Sammy. Like a detective story, the children search for Sammy’s real home, and if the signs are to be believed, he must learn things about himself before he can return. In wishing for things, the children are transported to various times and locations: the Kaiser in 1939, Cyril in the trenches during the war, all designed to give the readers some insight into war and its aftermath, while being a model for Sammy to truly regret his past actions and feel compassion as they do.

The intriguing story will give avid readers an introduction to the stories of the Great War, showing how people were involved on all fronts and enlist their sympathies as they see the impact of war upon the family. Robert is blinded, Ernie loses his leg, friends are killed in action, Jane wants to be a doctor, the parents are shocked when Anthea wants to marry someone outside their circle, and so on, each designed to reflect the impact of the war on attitudes and society of the time, while questioning the need for war.

Comic fantasy for middle to upper primary, this is a wonderful read aloud, charting the progress of Sammy from a ruthless god and ruler of the ancient world to someone who empathises with those around him. The many incidents serve as exemplars for the impact of war on the community and would serve as a wonderful introduction to the theme of war in class. The plaque outside one of the cemeteries, Now Heaven, is by the young invaded and could serve as a telling subtitle for this engrossing story and an introduction to the work done in class.
Fran Knight, Retired Teacher Librarian, Adelaide SA 5000

This dear book has captivated me as an adult and I’m sure it would be enjoyable for imaginative children too. I loved the ‘heroically untidy room’ and the scenes that involved flying.  As a tutor of primary school children I would recommend it as it will prove to be a significant publication in the centenary of World War 1. It gives us a charming child’s perspective on what are very adult issues.

I was not a keen a reader myself as a child but I wish I’d had the patience to have read books like this a long time ago. The short chapters will help to maintain the attention of the most reluctant reader as they enter a world of magic sand fairies, love, old-fashioned family values and deep morals such as repentance.

The characters, like the language, are very much of the time and Kate Saunders has done Edith Nesbit proud by breathing fresh life into her original stories after a century. She puts us in an era where people are a bit all right, had ripping fun and are as solid as bricks. Like C. S. Lewis and the Narnia series, this is bound to be a classic so if you thought you were too old and serious for stories about magic, remember that magic stays forever.

“He was real, wasn’t he?” Polly asked her mother.
‘We go on getting older but dear old Squirrel never does’ or as the ode says; Age shall not weary them.* ‘NOW HEAVEN IS BY THE YOUNG INVADED’; “That writing on the stone arch reminded me how hard – how very hard – wars are for the young. The old people only start them.”

*From the "Ode of Remembrance", taken from Laurence Binyon's poem, "For the Fallen".
Neil, Freo Mentor, Fremantle WA

With 2015 being such a significant year in terms of the historic events of the First World War, I was keen to review this book with a view to sharing with my class the events of this period in a different way. I was hooked straight away by the line on the front cover ‘It took a war to bring the Psammead back…’ I knew this book would be more than I expected and I was proven correct. Brilliantly combining the events of the time through the lives and adventures of a family of children in England, Kate Saunders has presented the realities of living through this period and the effects of the war on individuals and families in a sensitive yet honest way that children will relate to. Combining this with a magical sand fairy sounds a little far-fetched but it works perfectly through a carefully crafted storyline. The prologue introduces the characters and their first meeting with the Psammead and I was already making connections to Narnia and Enid Blyton books! This story will allow the reader to feel like they are in the events of the time as part of the family. The opportunities for class study are endless. Focus may be on the events and geography of the war itself or the historical references in relation to the Psammead’s life. There are the moral lessons the Psammead needed to reflect on and the social class issues of the time in England. Drawing the Psammead himself would be an exciting challenge! I am looking forward to sharing Five Children on the Western Front with my new class this year. Lest We Forget.
Fiona Deppeler, Balgowlah Heights Public School NSW 2093

This is a new novel that continues the much loved classic story of Five Children and It by E. Nesbit. In this book by Kate Saunders, the children must cope with the onset of the First World War and the impact that it brings. The book is a gripping read and effectively engages the reader’s emotions throughout the story. Kate Saunders has perfectly captured the tone of E. Nesbit’s much-loved book and is able to convey the devastation that the First World War brings to these character’s lives. It is a clever and imaginative story that will stay with readers long after they have finished reading.
Teachers could use this book as an engaging read aloud with their whole class. They may also wish to purchase multiple copies and use during guided reading or literature circles with a group of students. Teachers can look for opportunities at the end of each chapter to summarise what has just happened, as well as check students’ comprehension of the characters actions, feelings and motives. Students could also read Five Children and It and make comparisons between the two texts.

Due to the mature themes in the book, I think it is most suitable for children aged 10 years and older. Students don’t necessarily have to read Five Children and It first, although it may help deepen their understanding of the characters. This book is a great addition to any classroom or school library.
Kathleen Temple, Yarrambat PS