I loved E. Nesbit’s magical stories when I was little: Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, and the (less famous, but in my opinion the best) The Story of the Amulet. And I still enjoy them as an adult because now I can appreciate the added layers of meaning. Nesbit was a Fabian socialist and had a lot of witty things to say about gender and class, which probably went straight over the heads of the target audience but not of any adults who might be reading the stories to them.
But, even as a child – and with the benefit of living at the end of the twentieth century, rather than the start – I could do the maths and work out that the brothers in those books were exactly the right age to go and die horribly on the Western Front. My imagination at this point went more R.C. Sherriff than E. Nesbit so it’s probably as well that I never tried to write down what was in my head.
And so I was delighted to learn – only six years after the event – that Kate Saunders, also did the maths, and wrote the necessary sequel, Five Children on the Western Front. And very good it is too. She brings back the Psammead from the first and third books, successfully retaining his galaxy-sized ego while still making him ultimately loveable; she sticks to Nesbit’s style and ethos; and still manages to tell a moving WW1 story. It is a story you feel Nesbit might actually have written. Like all good fan fiction it probes into the cracks of the originals and explores what it finds there, and comes up with an ending that is sweet and moving and entirely in style.