Sunday 12 July 2020

Carly Mills Pioneer Girl: A New World

Carly Mills Pioneer Girl: A New World by Jane Smith (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $12.50 ISBN: 9781922265074

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

How would you react if you blinked your eyes to find yourself transported 200 years into the past? Carly Mills responds to this unexpected turn of events by making the most of a chance meeting with Australian historical legend Caroline Chisholm. A journey of discovery follows, as Mrs Chisholm introduces Carly to the harsh reality of life for the poor in 19th century Sydney.

Carly demonstrates determination, curiosity, and resilience in the face of her uncertainties. Alongside the time-travelling adventure narrative, Carly navigates a nascent modern-world friendship with Dora, her bubbly guide-turned-sidekick. The rendering of Caroline Chisholm is approachable, if slightly one-dimensional.

The story requires a degree of suspension of disbelief, as the two primary-school graduates are permitted to roam modern Sydney alone, and their acquaintances in the 1840s accept their comings-and-goings without query. But given the target audience and length of the book, it provides an engaging and emotive window into history without any hint of didacticism.

Each chapter includes a simple line-drawing, aiding comprehension of some of the unfamiliar features of the historical world, such as corsets. The book concludes with a useful historical note and an entertaining ‘Q&A with Caroline Chisholm’. The first in an anticipated series, readers will look forward to their next adventure with Carly.

This book will appeal to 7 to 12-year olds, particularly girls, who will enjoy coming on a time-travelling journey with the protagonists and find inspiration in the achievements of Caroline Chisholm.  It will also be an asset to upper-primary teachers covering Australian colonial history. Teaching materials are available.

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