I have always enjoyed E. Nesbit’s stories as they are imaginative, enchanting, and above all, heart warming, which is why I was delighted to see the Five Children and It series carries on after the series ended a long time ago.
Five Children on the Western Front, a new instalment of Nesbit’s popular series, now (re)imagined by Kate Saunders, sets the story at the dawn of World War I, nine years after the last story. With such a daunting task to continue the adventures of the Pembertons, I had doubts if this was a good idea for the author to take on. I hesitated, even a little sceptical, before plunging into this book like I would usually do; I asked myself: will Five Children on the Western Front be told in the same way as the previous Nesbit books, or will it have its own life, departed from the It series?
In my opinion, Saunders filled in Nesbit’s shoes remarkably well; her prose echoes Nesbit’s writing style, with the same complexity of characters and stories that made so many readers devoted to Nesbit. In fact, Saunders went even further and created a richer, deeper tale.
The author succeeded in making this story her own, for as the Pemberton children grow up, so does the story, in a way that life is no longer idyllic, but dire and cruel as the children are now trapped in the midst of the War. The new story becomes more complex and deals with bigger issues, and the feeling that everything will be fine somehow vanishes, especially when Cyril is about to fight in the front line, giving the readers a sense of uncertainty.
Amidst the terrible events comes a new character, Edie. An addition to the Pembertons, the youngest of all, Edie, free from the worries of growing up, is a character devised by the author to maintain the childishness, wit and warmth that can be commonly found in Nesbit’s stories. Most of all, her part brings out the Psammead’s in the book, that bridges fantasy and reality, while the other children’s paths show the shift from innocence to hard experiences. This time around, we learn more about the Psammead; the author slowly reveals the Sand Fairy’s inglorious past, as a parallel, poignantly to the brutality of war.
With all the warmth and tenderness that comes with the story, the author never hides the harsh reality of what the children experience as it unfolds. The heart wrenching ending, although leaves a bitter feeling for me, is otherwise beautifully written, marking the end of their childhood going forward in their lives. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Kate Saunders’ Five Children on the Western Front, and I am certain Nesbit would have agreed that this book is a worthy addition to the Five Children and It series.