Hereville–How Mirka Got Her Sword (Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl) by Barry Deutsch (Abrams Amulet Books, 2010)
For ages 8-12
This graphic novel tells the story of Mirka Hirschberg, an 11-year-old Orthodox girl from Hereville who wants to fight a dragon. She deals with a stepmother, a witch, a troll, full and half-siblings–and a pig in her quest. The book draws on Deutsch’s webcomic.
The good stuff
When I first heard about this book, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. In many ways, I was not disappointed.
- Originality–Deutsch presents a groundbreaking approach and a groundbreaking story. An Orthodox girl who wants to fight a dragon? In graphic format?
- Presentation of a different world–The novel presents a world that most kids are not familiar with. For instance, Deutsch depicts three different dress codes and how they define an Orthodox girl (Rebel Girl with unruly hair, untucked shirt, two buttons undone, and skirt worn high; Frum Girl with hair tied back, collar buttoned, and long skirt; and Popular Girl with styled hair, one button open, pretty belt, and skirt not too long or too short). The novelty of this unknown world, combined with mystery and fantasy, make the reader turn the page.
- The graphic format–Some stories are best told in narrative, some in verse, and some in graphic form. I can’t imagine Hereville having the same impact in any other format than graphic. Eye-catching details in the illustration challenge even the most sophisticated reader (I particularly liked Mirka’s approach to math.)
- Humor–When a witch’s castle appears out of nowhere with the allure of luscious grapes, Mirka picks one. Then she has to deal with the wrath of a pig, who belongs to the witch. Mirka thinks the pig is a monster, because in her Orthodox community, pigs just don’t exist. She can’t find it in her secret copy of a monster book. Her younger half-sister breaks the news to her that Gentiles have pigs and sometimes they eat them. Sarcasm and cleverly placed non sequiturs abound, which I find witty.
- Strong protagonist–Mirka knows what she wants and she’s willing to fight for it. But her character does develop along the way; by the end of the book, she’s grown both stronger and more vulnerable.
- Sibling relationships–Mirka struggles with her brother and sisters just like any other kid. These struggles ground the story. Her older sister’s worry about her reputation and future marriageability when Mirka gets a little weird remind me of Lydia’s running off with Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice and the damage her actions bring to her older sisters.
- Struggles with stepmother–Classic Grimm? Not really. It is Mirka’s challenge to find the good in Fruma (an apt name, perhaps?). All roads seem to lead back to her.
- Readability–This is the type of book a child (or adult) could read again and again and again without an ounce of boredom.
The not-so-good stuff
When I first read this book, I was offended, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why. When I read it a few more times, I was less offended. But I continue to wonder how Orthodox readers may react to this book. Would they find it amusing or offensive?
I’d love to hear some comments from The Whole Megillah readers with a perspective on that.
I also wonder about the Yiddish. I admit it, I’m a purist. Is it really “bistu” or is it really “bist du?”
4.7 out of 5.0