*Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword (graphic novel), by Barry Deutsch. Abrams (Amulet), 2010, 139 pp.
Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 8-10
Bottom Line: The unusual graphic novel series Hereville introduces middle graders to Mirka: “Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old orthodox Jewish girl.”
Hereville will be a very foreign place to most young readers, but there’s a good chance they’ll like it. As an introduction to Orthodox Jewish practice and thought it’s not half-bad, though Mirka is in many way a typical tomboy who would rather fight dragons than do domestic chores. In the opening panels (see the first fifteen pages here) she’s arguing with her stepmother Fruma over whether her dropped knitting stitches were preordained by God (Hashem). If so, does she need to fix them?
Adventures begin to sprout when she is running from a pair of bullies and happens upon a strange vertical house in the woods that appears to be occupied by a witch. Her siblings don’t believe her until they see for themselves, and experience a run-in with a fierce creature that no one recognizes (at first) as a pig. “What kind of Jew owns a pig?” asks Mirka’s sister Gittel. “Maybe [she’s] not Jewish,” suggests 10-year-old Rachel, and to to Gittel’s shocked expression adds, “Oh, come on! There are non-Jews in the world, you know.” “Not in Hereville!” Gittel protests.
That’s the point. Mirka gets her adventure, but she meets the challenge without dissing or devaluing her heritage and without bringing disgrace on her parents. When she does defeat the monster, it’s through a clever spin on the first few pages. Of course, none of this is biblical, but it’s worth recalling that Yeshua was once a nice Jewish boy, orthodox for his own time. The paths taken by Christianity and Judaism have widely diverged, but we can still feel a distant relationship to those who claim their descent from Jacob. And there’s another thing to admire about Mirka: she is spirited, but not rebellious. Her dreams comes true within the boundaries of the community. Just after receiving her mystic sword, for example, she rushes home to be on time for Sabbath observance, and the adventure is on hold for twenty-four hours. The author says he did this deliberately, to emphasize that some traditions are worth holding on to.
Everybody has their “Hereville,” or should. Every individual is shaped by community, whether definite and ordered (as Mirka’s is) or vague and disordered (as too much of contemporary society is). Though they don’t share her beliefs, Christian girls and boys can recognize a useful model in Mirka: you don’t have to break God’s law to be all you can be. In fact, God’s law is the best possible framework for being all you can be—and even more than you could ask or think.
Further adventures: How Mirka Met a Meteorite
Cautions: Supernatural (one character is a witch)
Overall rating: 5 (out of 5)
- Worldview/morality value: 4.5
- Artistic value: 5
Categories: Middle Grades, Fantasy, Fairy/Folk Tale, Religion, Starred Review, Graphic Novel, *Discussion Starter
- How does Mirka use what she learned at home to fight monsters outside the home?
- What do you think the witch represents?
- In what ways in Mirka’s life, culture, and family similar to yours? In what ways are they different?