How Mirka Got Her Sword
Reviewed April 19, 2011.
Amulet Books, New York, 2010.
2011 Eisner Award Nominee
Here's one more review of a book from School Library Journal's Battle of the Kids' Books. I hope I've convinced my readers to follow the Battle next year!
I don't read a lot of graphic novels, but when I saw the caption on the cover of Hereville, I knew I had to try it: "Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl." I'm sorry, but that's one caption I can't possibly resist.
Hereville gained high praise from Judge Susan Patron in Round One of the Battle:
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, a graphic novel by Barry Deutsch, must be the only book ever whose outside front cover made me laugh. “Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl,” it proclaims. Thick, shiny, paper painted in shades of coral, brown, black and white—changing to deep purples and grays in the scary night scenes—feel silky to the touch. Every page is vibrant with energetic pictures, dialogue, sound effects—and extremely minimal exposition.
The story plays with genres, tilting them on their sides; using incongruity, it skewers conventions. Seemingly we are in the middle of a Hansel and Gretel pastiche, a fairy tale, in which the characters sprinkle their dialogue with Yiddish words, “A klog iz mir: Woe is me!” as well as expressions like “Yaaaah!” ”Mumph!” and “Aaak!” Mirka, one daughter in a large family of sibs and step-sibs, rebels against the traditional role expected of her in the Orthodox Jewish community of Hereville. Rather than learning such “womanly arts” as knitting, she wants to fight dragons. There is lots of very clever stuff here: visual jokes such as an illustration contained within an exclamation point, table legs morphing into trees, and a deliciously horrid troll.
Wit and irony also abound in the text: a monster pig eats Mirka’s homework, Mirka and her clever, loving stepmother engage in wonderfully funny debates, and some Orthodox traditions are gently poked fun at (“preparing for all that non-working [on Shabbos] takes a lot of work!” and “In Hereville, kids aren’t allowed to have non-Jewish books. So Mirka keeps hers hidden”). I was hugely entertained, even as one tender scene brought tears to my eyes.
I don't read a lot of graphic novels, but I know that I will want to read absolutely anything Barry Deutsch writes about Mirka. The setting is utterly unlike any other book I've read (a small orthodox Jewish community in the country), but I can relate to Mirka's fairytale dreams. I love the prosaic nature of her first nemesis -- the talking giant pig. You can see she has the heart to fight a troll as well.
This book is funny, magical, insightful, and a joy to read. I can't wait to find out what Mirka will do with her sword.