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Five Children on the Western Front

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Five Children and It (1902) was Nesbit's first story about the Psammead, an ancient and cantankerous sand fairy who granted wishes that lasted only for a day, landing the children in all manner of scrapes. That would be fine if the particularity came from the characters' themselves - but they too were rather thinly sketched. Since I just recently finished reading all 3 of Edith Nesbit’s Pemberton books, I wanted to reread Kate Saunders’s Five Children on the Western Front. Transplanting these familiar characters – bookish Robert, cheerful, decent Cyril – into the trenches tugs at the heartstrings in a way that bare statistics can't.

The way Saunders uses the Psammead's history to parallel the WWI setting is its main strength, that and the beautiful way she pokes at Fabian confusion/hypocrisy. Although the Lamb also starts off young, it is Edie’s youthfulness and joy in the extraordinary that keeps the bond between fantasy and reality strong. If I hadn’t read Five Children and It or maybe read it a long time ago so it wasn’t fresh in my mind I think I would have loved this book. You don't learn about the war very much but you learn about all the risks that the family takes and what they suffer from the war. The Psammead itself is utilized as a sort of child reader surrogate, starting off totally solipsistic and learning, over the course of the novel, to grow and care more about the humans who are so devastated by the war's progress.While I can think of tons of historical fiction for WWII, there is very little besides the Anne of Green Gables title: "Rilla of Ingleside" about WWI. A heart-wrenching and poignant tribute to 'all the boys and girls, 1914-18', it is a must-read for children and adults alike, powerfully demonstrating the impact of World War I on a whole generation of young people. What the world am I going to READ after this I am still in that particular indescribable hist fic mood that landed me here in the first place.

And in Saunders' book the four older children from Nesbit's books (Cyril, Anthea, Jane and Robert) have all reached young adulthood, ranging from 16-21 at the start of the story.

From Nobel Laureates Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter to theatre greats Tom Stoppard and Alan Bennett to rising stars Polly Stenham and Florian Zeller, Faber Drama presents the very best theatre has to offer. They carry the story and observes what happens to the bigguns, the original five children during the War to End All Wars. However, I was extremely surprised to discover that Saunders has actually written a children's book, with a fairly convincing impression of Nesbit's own authorial voice - and while that is often charming, and occasionally even disarming in more tragic moments, it's got its share of problems, too.

I'm cautious of books like this one, rightfully I think, but Saunders does a good job - the tone and characterisation are better than expected, although the slang seems a little more over-the-top Blyton than Nesbit in places. It seems to me this book by Kate Saunders was deliberately written in a style similar to that of Nesbit’s original story, so maybe it helps to have read that original. The rest of the siblings go back and forth between being glad it is here and being upset at how selfish and self centered the Psammead is. No lessons, no underlining moral, no didactic tone relating to what children should and should not do.We are made by friends and family and the knowledge that somewhere out there sleeps a Psammead, or that there's a wardrobe which leads to Narnia. To take any magical creature from a 1902 classic and to give him hopes and fears and motivations above and beyond that of a mere literary device is a bit of a risk. The Psammead is all but forgotten, becoming a family myth, until he suddenly reappears at the bottom of the garden. I also liked this book, because I heard that this was a book that was based on the book "Five children and it", by E. Edie, the youngest of the children, is adorable – and perhaps the character who feels the Psammead’s magic most keenly.

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