Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

Challenge 15 ~ “A book set in the past (more than 100 years ago).”


★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The thing I like the most about shadowing the Carnegie Medal Shortlist (or any shortlist, really, but at least with the Carnegie Medal you’re 95% sure it’ll be of good quality) is that you discover new books and authors that you’d never really have thought of reading, or got around to, before. Five Children on the Western Front is a prime example. I mean, I haven’t read Five Children & It, or really heard of many people who consider it a good children’s book. So the sequel, set during the war, written by someone else? – it’s definitely not the usual thing I’d pick up. As you can probably tell from the five star rating, however, I am tremendously glad I did.

From the very beginning I was hooked on the novel. I may not have started with the first book, but following the initial chapters I felt as familiar with the characters as if it were the first in the series. Yet, reflecting on how it was approached, I don’t feel it would have been overbearing or boring for someone who had read Nesbit’s works. Saunder’s writing was also fantastic, bringing the fantastical world to life, and blending it seamlessly with the harsh reality of a country on the brink of war. Both sides seemed to be adequately researched, and this knowledge was presented subtly (rather than cramming the novel with historical facts that were irrelevant to the tale).

I reached 85% before I really found much to critique – we were only halfway through the war, and yet the book was almost over. In order to compensate, I found that towards the end of the novel the plotline was a little rushed, but Saunders did pull it back in the final chapters and epilogue. In a way, I would have appreciated (and probably enjoyed) a few extra chapters on this other part of the war – the complete opposite of how I felt about previous Carnegie nominee Cuckoo Song. Nevertheless, these rushed chapters still maintained high quality research and writing technique, shaping an engaging, educational and entertaining read.

Saunders is not an author I’ve encountered before but, like many of the authors on this year’s shortlist seem to be, I hope she is a regular returnee – I’d definitely like to read more of her work. I can foresee the shortlist being rather difficult to judge this year – the two I’ve read so far are both glowing gems (and I can forgive some of my favourites from the longlist not quite getting a place…)!

Recommended for fans of:

  • Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace
  • Warhorse by Michael Morpurgo
  • Whose Side Are You On? by Alan Gibbons

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