Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders


51apoyg7kpl Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders, Delacorte Press, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-553-49793-9

Format:  hardcover

Rating:  (1-5, 5 is a starred review) 5

Genre: historical fiction, magical realism

What did you like about the book? This book has an old-fashioned feel to it, partly because it’s written as a sequel to Edith Nesbit’s Five Children and It, which was published in 1902. Readers need not have read that book, although they may be intrigued enough by this new installment to seek it out, at least for some background information. The book centers on the Pemberton family and a mysterious sand fairy, known as the Psammead, during World War I in England. The children who figured prominently in Five Children and It are mostly grown up by now, and the younger children in the family wonder if the stories they’ve heard about their siblings’ time-traveling adventures with the Psammead are just imaginary. Then Edie and Lamb come face to face with the Psammead themselves, and discover that something has gone wrong with his magic. The Psammead’s backstory, which is woven throughout, is fairly grim, but one of the charms of the story is how the four grown children are drawn back to him, in spite of the cares of their teenage and adult lives. At the beginning of the story, Cyril is leaving to fight in the war, and Robert soon follows.  Jane also finds herself facing the horrors of war, working in a military hospital. The story is heart-wrenching, as the war touches everyone’s lives, but it still carries a message of hope.  A poignant author’s note at the end should not be missed.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I loved this book, but readers should be prepared for some violence and death, both because of the war and because of the Psammead’s unsavory past. My only criticism is that the bland cover art is not likely to spark readers’ interest.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Read Alikes? Recommend this book to mature readers who enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia, as this book features similar strong sibling bonds, and Edie is a character reminiscent of Lucy Pevensie.  For other stories with a World War I backdrop, recommend Rilla of Ingleside, the final book in the Anne of Green Gables series, as well as Warhorse by Michael Morpurgo, and The Silver Donkey by Sonya Harnett.

Who should buy this book? Middle schools and public libraries may want to purchase this book, as well as Five Children and It. That title may be dated in places, but could spark some good discussions.

Where would you shelve it ?  Middle-grade fiction.

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  Yes. After a certain point, I found it difficult to put down.

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Renée Wheeler, Leominster Public Library, Leominster, MA

Date of review: October 27, 2016

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