Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword written and illustrated by Barry Deutsch,
HOW MIRKA GOT HER SWORD BACK
is now in PAPERBACK!!
HOW MIRKA GOT HER SWORD BACK
is now in PAPERBACK!!
There are things you can do with pictures that you just can't do with words. Ideas and images that you can convey more effectively and quickly, worlds you can create in one page instead of fifty. Graphic novels are brilliant at accomplishing this feat. However, I often get to the end of a graphic novel hungry for more, feeling like I've had an amuse-bouche, a delicious, gorgeous mouthful of wonderful, when what I think I really want is a five course meal that takes hours to devour. Chalk that up to my being an American consumer who typically thinks more is better. I have been complaining for a while now about 400+ page kids books while talking out the other side of my mouth about how short and quick to read graphic novels are. Well, that talk ends here, or, more specifically in Hereville, the fictional world created by Barry Deutsch. The more graphic novels I read the more I am learning to delight in the taste rather than the full meal, and Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword is flavorful enough to whet my whistle and satisfying enough to keep me from fidgeting too much while I wait for the next installment of the story - if there is to be one...
As the byline informs us, this story is going to be a mix of fantasy and religion, but not religion in the prosthelytizing or dogmatic sense. In Hereville, the Orthodox Jewish community where children born there have never seen a pig, let alone know what one is, life is lived according to the beliefs that residents hold and the religious laws that they choose to follow. I could go on about how Hereville seems as fantastical to me as Hogwarts did the first time I read JK Rowling's books, but, like Rowling, Deustch is as master of the world that he creates and he inserts the reader into it instantly and seamlessly. While the characters use Yiddish words on almost every page and definitions are provided, I found that I rarely needed to look down to see what a word or phrase meant. The action in the story almost always provided the definition needed. Deustch never uses Mirka's religion and way of life to propel or explain the plot, even at the climax of the story. Hereville and the observant Jews who live in it are the setting, much as a a village at the edge of a kingdom or enchanted forest is often the setting for a fairy tale. And Hereville is a fairy tale, of sorts. Mirka, after poring over a contraband (non-Jewish) book titled The Big Book of Monsters in stolen moments, has decided that she wants to fight dragons. When Mirka reveals this to her stepmother, Fruma, her response is, "You want to slaughter innocent dragons? How could you?" Then Fruma proceeds to argue with Mirka about the true nature of dragons, whether or not they are evil or just the way that God made them and posits that killing a dragon is actually "attacking a symptom while ignoring the root ecological causes." When Mirka gives up in a frustrated huff, Fruma then shrieks, "Mirka! You mean you'd let a dragon devour me and the whole town? How could you?" The time Fruma spends arguing both sides of a situation with Mirka seem almost as useless as the time she spends trying to teach Mirka the "womanly arts" that will make her a good wife, however, by the end of the story we see that both of these abilities come in to play, one skill serving Mirka better than the other.
The time it takes to get to that final scene is a wonderful trip through Mirka's world and journey into a new one. The page above shows Mirka's breakdown of the different ways that her classmates follow the rules and bend them. We get a brilliant look into how Mirka's brain works as she tries to unravel a word problem for her math class. And, as Mirka waits for just the right time to ask Fruma a very important question, we see the family prepare for and celebrate Shabbos, the most important holiday of the year that takes place "every single week."
When we first meet Mirka, she is trying to argue with Fruma, insisting that God wanted her to drop a stitch in her knitting. Five pages later, we see her standing up to the bullies who have been tormenting her younger brother, Zindel, as they walk to school. Mirka is fearless and pretty smart with her moves and, as she hides from the tormenters she discovers a mysterious house with grapes the size of baseballs growing in the garden and a woman floating in the air as she prunes her trees. Mirka rushes home to tell her siblings and returns to the house with a few of them (she has nine siblings in all) in tow. This is where her troubles begin. After plucking and eating one of those huge grapes, she is confronted by a pig (her stepsister, Rochel, having lived outside of the Orthodox community, tells Mirka what the animal is) and hunted down by him for her crime. Stuck up in a tree, Mirka refuses to give up and her battle against the pig leads her to a near death experience, a rescue, a gratitude and a challenge against a troll that ultimately ends with her earning her sword. How the magical story unwinds is as compelling as Mirka's struggles to fit in with her everyday life.
A few more scenes from Mirka's adventures... I just love the artwork in this book and, although they are quite different, in terms of story content and fabulous artwork, I couldn't help but think of Eleanor Davis' spectacular graphic novel for kids, The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook. In both, the characters are strong and have depth, the plots are innovative and fast paced and, in both books, we are taken to new worlds, whether is it the secret lab of three young inventors or a town that seems to exist on the edge of reality and fantasy.
For those of you who feel like the length of time it takes to read a graphic novel may not balance out the price, and I know you are out there because I was once one of you, take some time to read Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword or any of the other graphic novels I mention here in this review. They WILL CHANGE YOUR MIND FOR GOOD!!!
Other graphic novels that I highly recommend:
by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale.
written and illustrated by Eleanor Davis.
Amulet written and illustrated by Kazu Kibuishi.
The Fog Mound Trilogy by Susan Schade and Jon Buller