Jane Smith (text) and Pat Kan (illustrator), Superstar! (Carly Mills, Pioneer Girl, #3), Big Sky Publishing, February 2021, 140 pp., RRP $12.50 (pbk), ISBN 9781922387646
Carly Mills Pioneer Girl Superstar is the third in the five-book series by Jane Smith that brings to life the courage and contribution of some of our most famous pioneering women; and they are an inspiring group – Caroline Chisolm, Dr Lillian Cooper, Dame Nellie Melba, Florence Nightingale and Amelia Earhart.
In book 3 Superstar, Carly is in Melbourne getting ready to perform in a concert with her school choir. Just as everyone is taking their places, Carly Mills’ some-time friend Simone teasingly rips some lace from Carly’s shawl and ties it around her neck. Unaware that the shawl, and that of Carly’s friend Dora, possess time-travelling qualities, Carly and Dora must quickly wrap their shawls around their shoulders to join Simone in the past.
It is 1867. The girls’ attire has magically changed from school uniforms to the fashion of the era, complete with uncomfortable corsets, and they are inside a large hall where a Sunday School concert is underway. A gentleman comes onto the stage to introduce a young girl Helen Mitchell who delights the crowd with her beautiful singing voice. Little do Carly, Dora and Simone realise that through their subsequent visits into the past, they will witness the career path of six-year-old girl Helen Mitchell to become the world famous singer, Dame Nellie Melba.
This is a cleverly created piece of historical fiction which brings to life some outstanding role models for young readers, in this case Dame Nellie Melba. So often history is taught as dates, times, and places, however, Jane Smith has given us the social context which breathes life into what can at times be a rather detached experience of learning about our past.
The young characters Carly, Dora and Simone display all the ups and downs of young teen relationships – they squabble, tease each other, and show kindness – but this never takes over from the focus of the story. There is no real drama or action in this book; it’s more a meander into a time in history. The text is straight-forward, and the layout really does make this a very easy read for its junior fiction audience. The pencil drawings by illustrator Pat Kan are rather lovely, a bit old-world in the depiction of Australian life in a bygone era.
I was pleased for this snapshot of Dame Nellie Melba and I am sure the other books in this series are equally informative in content and engaging in their presentation.
Reviewed by Jennifer Mors