This book is one of the Carnegie shortlist books and was probably one of the easiest to read. It is a kind of sequel to Five Children and It by E Nesbit which was first published in 1902. The original book follows five children (Robert, Anthea, Cyril, Jane, and their baby brother, known as the Lamb) and their adventures with a sand fairy or Psammead who they discover in a gravel pit at the bottom of their garden. He allows them to make one wish a day that will only last until midnight. Unfortunately they keep making mistakes with their wishes and end up in silly situations. Finally, because the wishes were so disastrous, the Psammead agrees to correct the last wish under the condition that they will not make any more wishes. They agree, but Anthea wishes that they will meet the Psammead again one day and then he disappears. End of book.
Five Children on the Western Front starts with the five original children waking up the Psammead two years later in their old nanny’s home in London and wishing to see the future. Not too far but far enough. The Psammead takes them to 1930 where they meet their old friend the Professor. Jane notices that the professor has photographs of the girls when they are older, but realises there are no photos of the boys. After they have left, the professor starts to weep; a portent of what is to come. The story then jumps forward nine years to October 1914 and England is on the brink of war with Germany. Anthea is now at Art School, Robert at Oxford, Cyril has joined the army and is hoping to be posted to India and the Lamb is at school with his best friend and neighbour Winterbum. They also have a new sister (not in the original book ) called Edie. Edie and the Lamb discover the Psammead one day when they are playing outside and realise immediately that he is the sand fairy of their older brothers and sisters stories. Edie falls in love with the Psammead and treats him like a pet – while the professor is doing some research about the Psammead and realises that he is more powerful then they thought. He has lost his powers and, after a visitation from a skeleton, they realise that to get his power back he needs to make amends for his past mistakes. Meanwhile the war is going on around them. Cyril has joined up and is on the Western Front, Robert is just finishing at Oxford and is then going to join the army and Anthea and Jane both help nursing the wounded. The Lamb and Edie help the Psammead to finish his quest and regain his powers and their last wish is the most heart breaking – I will admit I shed a tear.
I liked this book but I wasn’t really sure why the author decided to make the connection with the original. The book could have just been about the children’s experiences of the war and what happened to them without adding the quest to save the Psammead’s powers. Although if you had read the original it would be nice to reconnect with the characters and see what happened to them, it was a well written book about the consequences of war, and a most brutal war, and how it affected a nice middle class family. I enjoyed the relationship with the children and their reactions to the glimpses of the future – it was clever the way the author made them witness scenes so that we all knew what was going on. On the whole, if you have read the original book or seen the film then this is a nice book to read, or even if you haven’t you will still enjoy it.