Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

Before we begin, according to the Federal Trade Commission, I do need to let you know that a review copy of this book was provided by Amulet Books, a division of Abrams for the purposes of our checking out the story. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to my review of this interesting, witty little gem that, the more I consider, the more I like.

I’ve always been excited by stories that take me into another culture or community that’s a bit outside my normal zone of experience. Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword (subtitled “Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl”) may be written with a younger target audience in mind, but its wistful, relaxed air transports the reader into a very realistic world filled with Orthodox Jewish life and culture. I found it to be a welcome place to visit.

The story and art is by Barry Deutsch who has won the national Charles M. Schulz award for best college cartoonist (2000) and is part of the Portland creator community. The book is colored by Jake Richmond. The art and visual impact of the story is quite impressive. From the way this story is laid out to the use of detail as narrative cues, there is a simple quality here that I really respect. The more I look back through the book, the more detail and creativity I find to catch my eye. Visually, from the moment I saw it, I know it would be my next review as it’s a beautiful book to read. I can understand why Deutsch is award winning in his work.

Equally interesting is the fact that this fantasy graphic novel (almost made for the Harry Potter set) goes where few of its type ever do. It tackles religion head-on and weaves the entire tale around this element as a narrative backdrop. Even better, it all works to tell a fun little story that has an emotional resonance. I found myself invested in the characters by the end.

As the tale itself goes, Mirka is a bit of a free spirit in a world that values tradition and structure. She has a dream of fighting dragons and embarks on a quest that leads her to the wrong side of a talking pig, the right side of a local witch and in the end, her path puts her at odds with a guardian troll. The troll, of course, is guarding a sword which Mirka considers her destiny to wield. Along the way, tables are turned and Mirka must use a skill she less than loves to win the day. Telling you any more would spoil the fun.

Looking at the book objectively, what intrigued me personally were some of the religious elements as Orthodox Jewish life isn’t something I’m exposed to every day. In the story (starting around page 76) there is a depiction of Shabbos (the weekly holiday or seventh day of rest) that paints the most relatable depiction of the joy of this day I have ever seen in print. This part of the book, for this reader, borders on the reverently magical and left me wanting to experience this coming together of community and celebration for myself which was an unexpected feeling.

Throughout the story, Hebrew dialogue is sprinkled into the story with footnotes to help the reader along. It’s interesting how the story teaches as it entertains. I actually feel like I came away learning a thing or two while never feeling instructed or preached to by the story.

This story also scores big points for featuring the most interesting pig I’ve seen in print in some time. The pig confounds and challenges Mirka and, looking back, framed one of my favorite parts of the story.

I give this one a strong recommendation. It was a solid story, a brave step in an unexpected direction and the entire package is wrapped up in some amazing art. Give it a try. I hope it resonates with you as strongly as it did for me.

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

Story and Art By Barry Deutsch / Colors by Jake Richmond
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 144 pages
Publisher: Amulet Books (November 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0810984229
ISBN-13: 978-0810984226
Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 0.4 inches

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