Mirka Hirschberg lives in the Orthodox community of Hereville with her many sisters, younger brother, stepmother, and father. Mirka dreams of being a dragonslayer and is frustrated by her knitting lessons and her sisters' worries about finding the right husband.
One day on the way to school, Mirka tries to defend her brother from some bullies and ends up running through the woods, only to discover a witch's house. After she shows the house to some of her sisters, Mirka takes a grape from the witch's vine. That theft changes Mirka's life in some surprising ways.
Barry Deutsch's Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, introduces us to the feisty eleven-year-old Mirka. She is a good girl, but she doesn't really want to learn the "womanly arts" that her stepmother insists on teaching her. Who wants to knit when you could be fighting dragons?
Deutsch's story of "yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl" is a fast read with plenty of action and a great leading lady. Whether she is being harassed by the monster pig, saving her brother from bullies, or helping her family get ready for the Sabbath, Mirka is a girl that everyone can relate to. She is both brave and afraid, both obedient and willful; in other words, she's a completely normal preteen. Her spunk and sense of humor are endearing, and we hope they'll be enough to make her wishes come true.
The drawings are sparsely done but full of expression, making it easy to sense each character's mood. The scarier sections are rendered in darker colors, and the physicality of the action scenes is clearly sensed.
Here is a sample spread from the novel (click to see it full size). In it, Mirka is solving a math problem. She has just cut a cake into three equal portions. Before she and her two friends can start eating, another girl shows up at the door. What's a hostess to do?
The novel exposes readers to some Yiddish words and to some Orthodox Jewish customs. This is not, however, a religious book. Mirka just happens to be Jewish, in the same way most characters in most books just happen to be Christians. The description of the Sabbath is no more detailed or preachy than are descriptions of Christmas traditions in other novels. And that's the way it should be.
A fun story for all readers of any age and a good conversation starter for families or book clubs who have little knowledge of modern Orthodox life.
Thanks to Vasilly (Natasha) at 1330v for bringing Hereville to my attention. For more on the graphic novel and its author, visit the Hereville website, where you can read the first few pages of the book.
Published by Abrams / Amulet Books, 2010
Source: Borrowed (see review policy)
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