Stargirl Academy: Lily’s Shimmering Spell by Vivian French
A new glittery girly series for the under 8’s.
Lily is a modern-day Cinderella. Living with badtempered Great-Aunt Acidity, she has to spend her days fetching never-good-enough biscuits and tea for the relative who took her in, alongside her mean old pooch Sweetypie. Then one day she feels a Tingle in her elbow, and soon finds herself barrelling into a castle floating in a cloud that drifts into her street. Once there, she meets Fairy Mary McBee, the headmistress of the newly renamed Stargirl Academy, which aims to produce a new batch of fairy godmothers. Soon she and the other girls are attempting their very first spells but how will they earn the first stars on their Stargirl pendants?
There are elements I both liked and disliked here, so let’s get the disliked out of the way first. There was only one thing I didn’t really get on with in this book and that is that it came off a little – frankly- too goody-two-shoes. Everything was a little too perfect about the girls (including Lily, the featured girl of the six in this book); they were all sweet, kind and good, not a crinkle or a wrinkle anywhere. Lily herself was a bit of a Cinderella character, living as she does with her bad-tempered old Great-Aunt Acidity (great name by the way!) and to be honest, apart from being told that so-and-so was chatty and so-and-so was quiet, I couldn’t really tell any of the other girls apart. It was all quite girly too to go along with the perfect-ness (is that even a word?), with the shining, swirling, glittering, twinklieness of the spells, the castle and the girls themselves. Girly I can deal with, but it did feel a little bit too much sometimes.
Then again, I’m not exactly this book’s target audience and I could be being jaded by the pink cover of the proof copy I received. I try not to be swayed by pink covers, I really do (after all, I loved Monstrous Maud), but I can’t help thinking that this series does have a fair amount of ‘pink and girly’ behind it.
That said though, this is only the very first in the series. With each of the planned six books in the series focusing on one of the six Stargirls, it’s quite possible each of the girls will become a bit more individual as the books go on. One thing I know could annoy some parents and teachers is that each girl is clearly of a different ethnicity and while this could cause contention for being too PC, personally I don’t really mind this. It’s like the Rainbow Magic series by Daisy Meadows; in my experience little girls like finding a character who looks just like them (and yes, I must confess I have gone through the Rainbow Magic fairies myself trying to find my doppelganger. No luck so far – obviously fairies don’t go in for green hair).
Another thing I liked is the idea itself of the girls training to be fairy godmothers. Stuff fairies, bring on the godmothers, they’re the real deal after all! It’s a great twist on the usual girls+fairies combo, and I LOVE the travelling cloud castle idea too.
I also liked the idea of the girls banding together to do a good deed at the end of each book. The idea is that each magical spell they learn (in this case ‘Shimmering’) must be used to enact a good deed for one of their team, and in the first book, Lily is the recipient. Her Cinderella-esque homelife is solved with a little judicious ‘Shimmering’ and a warning spelled out in milk. It reminded me a little bit of the Brownies, to be honest, learning useful skills and doing good deeds and all (although obviously without the magic involved, sadly). Yes it might be a tad cheesy, and it doesn’t take much for Great Aunt Acidity to suddenly become sweetness and light, but a good deed is a good deed and I can think of worse things for characters to aspire to in a book!
The teachers were quite good fun too. Fairy Mary McBee (which incidentally can be a little hard to read and say sometimes I’ve found) and Miss Scritch instantly reminded me of Miss Cackle and Miss Hardbroom from The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy, and Fifibelle was possibly the most airy-fairy twinkly-winkly character I’ve ever come across.
So yes, whilst this book may be very girly, and the girls a bit of a blank canvas for the moment, there are elements that make up for this. The good deeds idea is obviously a fairly nice one to have, and whilst the representation of all ethnicities could be a bit divisive I personally quite liked it (and I daresay a number of little girls could do too). Perhaps not the most uniquely individual girls series then for 5-8 year olds that’s out and about, but it’s a nice alternative for girls to read when they want something similar to Rainbow Magic but need a different author (and, dare I say it, with possibly a bit more behind it).
Find Lily’s story here