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Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword Paperback – October 1, 2012
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From School Library Journal
Gr 4-7–To the delight of his online followers, Deutsch's popular web comic featuring “Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl” is now available in print. Mirka is the heroine that girlhood dreams are made of: questioning and smart and willing to take on the world. She constantly battles wits with her stepmother, Fruma, whose argumentative nature and sharp nose conceal a warm and caring nature. Readers view the image of Mirka's deceased mother, who continues to play an influential role in her life. The child, stuck at home with knitting needles, longs to wield a sword and do battle with dragons. Instead she finds herself caught in a battle of wills with a talking pig. That's right: scenes of an Orthodox Jew with a pig add to the humor. The story is a captivating mixture of fantasy and a realistic look at a culture. The girl encounters both a mind-reading witch and a multilingual troll in her quest for a sword with which to fight dragons. Yiddish language and Jewish customs are an essential part of the story and provide excellent bedrock to the tale without overwhelming it. Mirka outwits the troll and obtains the sword, bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion. However, there is more to tell and it is obvious that further adventures await this young heroine. The illustrations are done in a monochromatic palette, with a color change from a warm earthy orange/cream for daytime scenes to a cool lavender/blue for the night scene. With engaging characters and delightful art, Hereville is pure enchantment.–Barbara M. Moon, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NYα(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Set in a well-realized contemporary Orthodox Jewish community, this sweet and engaging tale of 11-year-old Mirka’s thirst for a dragon-slaying adventure unfolds in well-integrated images and text. Mirka’s family includes a stepmother who is strict but not evil, a marriage-obsessed older sister, and a little brother for whom Mirka alternately takes responsibility and finds unwontedly cumbersome. Deutsch creates authentic characters spiced with just enough fantasy to surprise: the members of the community use Yiddish and Hebrew expressions, which are translated as they appear in the text, and the arrival of a talking pig in the village presents a challenge for Mirka, as pig and girl compete to outmaneuver each other in arguments as well as actions. And then there’s the space alien who challenges Mirka to knit for her life. Details of Orthodox daily life are well blended into the art and given just the right touches of explanation to keep readers on track. Mirka is a spunky, emotionally realistic, and fun heroine for her peers to discover. Grades 3-6. --Francisca Goldsmith --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Mirka has a dream, but it's not the kind of thing that gets a lot of support. More than anything else in the entire world she wants to fight dragons. The problem? She's eleven, a girl, and she lives in the Jewish Orthodox town of Hereville. Still, Mirka gets a bit closer to her dream when she incurs the wrath of a witch's pig, then does it a good deed, thereby indebting its witch to her. As it turns out, the witch tells Mirka that there is a good sword in the neighborhood, but the only way to get it is to defeat a troll. And when push comes to shove, Mirka's going to have to use all her smarts and cunning to defeat an enemy that prizes one of the arts she loathes the most.
Think about children's fantasy novels and religion for a moment. Religion in fantasies for kids tends to skew one of three ways. You can incorporate it and make it the entire point of the novel (Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, the Narnia books of C.S. Lewis or Madeleine L'Engle's The Wrinkle in Time series which is technically science fiction anyway). You can make up an entirely new religion of your own (as in the novels of Frances Hardinge, Tamora Pierce, Megan Whalen Turner, etc.). Or you just sorta forget about it. Remember, in the Harry Potter novels there may be churches and Christmas, but when wizards marry there's only a vague representative of some unnamed religion presiding. And children's graphic novels are in such an infant phase at this point that religion never even comes up half the time. The Bone books by Jeff Smith aren't about to launch into a treatise of religious doctrines (though Phoney Bone does strike me as a Calvinist at his core).
So Hereville is remarkable right off the bat because it isn't afraid. It says, "Yeah, I'm gonna incorporate religion into this book. Heck, I'm even gonna TEACH about the religion of Orthodox Jews while I'm at it." And darned if Deutsch doesn't! Though Hereville itself might be a made up town inhabited entirely by practitioners of this religion, what we learn all is true and accurate. From the different ways girls can be rebellious, pious, or popular in their near identical school clothes to Shabbos to what the three braids of the khale represent (truth, peace, and justice), it's all in there without ever sounding like you're being taught something. The religion is integral to the story and you wouldn't want it any other way.
Deutsch's storytelling, which is also above par, makes this book very much a hero's quest. However, to defeat her enemy, the troll, Mirka must use a set of skills she acquired at the beginning of this book. What I love is that the skill that comes to her aid isn't her lamentable knitting (the troll insists on a knitting challenge, which Mirka is slightly less than able to do) but rather the art of debate as acquired from her stepmother. It's the power of prevarication at work. At the same time, you've grown to really care for Mirka and her family. Even when she does bad things, you still understand where she's coming from. There's a sequence where she's hurting her little brother, and the storyline flashes between her actions and images of her mother telling her years ago that she is responsible for keeping him safe. You realize then that Mirka is a real person with dimensions and faults, which is something I always like to find in my middle grade comic fare.
And then there's the art itself. The longer I study it the more remarkable I find it. Sometimes it's just very basic things. The moments when Deutsch chooses to switch between eyes that are merely black dots with eyebrows and when those eyes acquire whites and pupils is key to understanding the book. Then there are the little things you might not even notice. If two characters are talking and one is reluctant to say something, Deutsch might take a beat to have that character flip a braid away that was creeping down her shoulder in the previous panels. There are even times when it seems as though there's a slight manga influence on the book. Not in terms of the look, of course, but more the reaction shots. Mirka staring daggers at Rochel takes on a literal meaning in one panel. In another, Mirka yelling at Zindel to wake up takes the form of a huge panel that literally pushes him to one side.
Can I take a moment to wax rhapsodic about the layouts on these pages too? I mean, this is an art. A true art. Deutsch is so good at breaking up the panels and playing with them. In my favorite sequence, Mirka visualizes a math problem. She's in a situation where she has two friends over and has already cut a cake into thirds. Then a third friend comes over and she has to find a way to divide the thirds equally amongst four people. That situation takes up two pages but in each one there are multiple Mirkas to keep track of. You manage to do it, though, because of the ways in which Deutsch knows to command your eyeballs. You look exactly where you are supposed to, thanks to his cunning art. These are the sorts of things kids take for granted, but they're often difficult to achieve. And it's certainly some of the most sophisticated art I've seen in a children's graphic novel, that's for sure.
Plus I'm a sucker for little details. Since everyone in town has to essentially wear the same clothes, Deutsch finds ways to reclothe Mirka in appropriate ways. From word problems to her final sweater, Mirka's clothing is important. And I loved other details as well. The ways in which Gittel looks like her dead mother while Rochel definitely has the beginnings of Fruma's nose.
Oh. And he also draws really good hands. Knitting hands, hands lighting candles, you name it. I like hands and they are hard to draw. So. There's that.
Confession: Truth be told, there is very little in this book I do not like. What's more, it offers me, a children's librarian, a sneaky way to introduce kids to religions and creeds they might not otherwise have any exposure to in a format they already love. Bereft of any kind of stereotyping you might name, Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword could only make me angry if it failed to produce a sequel in the future. Until then, we'll just have to be content with this. A remarkable little book and, I guarantee, like nothing else you have on your bookstore, library, or personal shelves.
For ages 9-14.
When I first heard about Hereville on the internet I was intrigued. The art was impressive, and I was attracted to the book's themes. I've read many graphic novels with Jewish themes, but few about the lives of religious Jewish children. Moreover, the comic strips I've read about Orthodox or Hassidic children centered on boys.
I put the book on my Wish List and I was delighted to receive it as a present. I read it in one sitting. Deutsch's storytelling is engaging and he weaves in the strands of Mirka's tale like a master knitter into a superb creation.
I'm familiar with many children's books as I work in a library and visit the children's section to check out titles that look striking. I'm sure children would love How Mirka Got her Sword. It's wonderful to see a spunky heroine follow her self-confidence and her instincts, not allowing others to discourage either her imagination or her ambitions. I also loved how throughout the book Judaism is not portrayed as something negative or confining, but rather enriching and ennobling. When I was a girl I looked forward to the magazines we were given in Hebrew school which included comics and stories. Alas most were aimed at boys: the ones that addressed girls debated such issues as whether or not a girl could say a blessing over the food on the Sabbath. I would have loved to read Mirka when I was a girl: it's a pleasure to see a girl confront demons -- dragons and trolls and her own personal inner ones -- without agonizing over whether it's appropriate for her gender. It's also refreshing that a craft like knitting, which is seen as a "woman's art", becomes battle of mastery between Mirka and the troll. I knit and I nourished Mirka's arguing that knitting is more powerful when the person has the courage to go off pattern and be creative. Many knitters would agree, and it's an apt moral, not just in the world of knitting sweaters.
Yet it would be a shame if How Mirka Got her Sword were confirmed to children's libraries. Many adults would also find it rewarding. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys graphic novels, or a cracking story well told.
I hope that Hereville becomes a series with more stories about its residents. Deutsch presents a very rich world in How Mirka Got her Sword - one that I hope to be able to explore further in future books.