Saturday, 2 April 2016

Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

Now that I've finished reading all of the books shortlisted for the Carnegie prize (oh yes, and burned quite a lot of toast along the way, "multi-tasking"), I have decided which one I want to win (I have never actually agreed with the panel on this front, by the way, which is a bit of a blow.)

Ironically it's the one about which I said to our school librarian "I don't want to read that one. I bet it's really, really boring".  She said that she'd thought it was really rather wonderful, and, in fairness, I normally agree with her about books, but my hopes were still not high.  A feels the same, and said "I'll read that one last. It's the one Mrs D says is most appropriate for Year 7, so it'll probably be rubbish."

Oh, but it's not.  I don't know if an actual child would like it as much as I do.  It's a sequel to Five Children and It.  I do not have fond memories of this particular work.  I never actually read it, but when I was at school the cool girl who got all the boys, and looked a bit like me but prettier, and had a figure a bit like mine but with bigger boobs, and got the solo I wanted in the choir concert, she used to call me Psammead.  We're actually very good friends now, despite the fact that she looks about ten years younger than I do, and is still sickeningly good looking. She doesn't call me Psammead any more, in fairness.

It's fair to say, I wouldn't have read this if it hadn't been shortlisted.  The psychological scars are still too deep. However, I'm so glad I did.  It made me laugh, sob, REALLY care about what was going to happen and think about the past, forgiveness, guilt and regret (I hope it makes my friend feel all these things too! Joking, obviously, I am so over it, honestly.  Completely, that's why I've hardly even mentioned it in this post).

It's set during WW1, with the original five children, plus their youngest sister, who was not born during the events of the first book.  I don't want to ruin the plot, so won't say too much, but the threads of the story are drawn together in a hugely satisfactory way.  It feels nostalgic, but not cloying.  It's an incredible achievement.

I really, really hope it wins.  I cannot urge you strongly enough to read it to your child (I would say 8+, there is death, but in an honourable non-gory Harry Potter way.)  I am going to read it as our next bedtime story, in the hope that reading the ENTIRE interminable series of Origami Sodding Yoda will make C more open to something he wouldn't normally choose.  We'll see...

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