Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch: A

From the back cover:
Mirka Hirschberg is a spunky, strong-willed eleven-year-old who isn’t interested in knitting lessons from her stepmother, or how-to-find-a-husband advice from her sister, or you-better-not warnings from her brother. There’s only one thing Mirka does want: to fight dragons! But she’ll need a sword—and therein lies the tale!

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword is a delightful story, due in large part to not being what I expected.

As the back cover avers, Mirka is indeed spunky and strong-willed and fantasizes about being a heroic slayer of dragons. Her day-to-day life amongst an isolated community of Orthodox Jews seems anything but heroic, however, full as it is of school, chores, worship, and instruction in “womanly arts” like knitting. When the casual theft of a grape from a mysterious garden leads to an encounter with an angry monster (it’s actually a pig, but Mirka has never seen one before), Mirka finds herself dealing with a foe nobody else believes in.

Eventually, Mirka not only extracts a promise from the vengeful pig (who is very proud of its garden) to leave her alone, she later saves it from some bullies, which causes its owner, a bizarre woman with a witchy mien, to be in her debt. The witch reads Mirka’s mind to identify her heart’s desire provides instructions as to where she might find a sword, that first essential ingredient to becoming a dragon slayer.

Now, I had thought this was going to be a story about a girl who gets a sword and discovers that she’s the chosen one, et cetera, but that’s actually not what happens. True, Mirka has a moonlit encounter with a troll in order to obtain the weapon, but it’s a knitting showdown she wins by virtue of emulating her stepmother’s prodigious talent for arguing. She then leaves the troll with the responsibility of safeguarding the sword and goes back home.

Will there be more daring adventures for Mirka in the future? I certainly hope so, but the best thing about this comic is that Deutsch realizes that the real mystery for readers is not the slayage of fantastic beasties but Mirka’s orthodox lifestyle. There are many interesting details about her daily life, including things like the amount of work that goes into preparing for Shabbos or what the popular girls wear at school. Even if the story ended here, I would be satisfied, because Mirka has learned to value not only her stepmother more, but also the traditional skills she’s expected to learn. Perhaps it will be enough for her to have proven she could earn the sword, even while she realizes that she’s happy with her current life.

While I’d heartily recommend this comic to anyone, I’d love to see how girls of Mirka’s age react to it. Maybe they’d be disappointed by the scarcity of fantastic elements, but I could be underestimating them. For me, at any rate, it was quite a pleasant surprise.

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  1. This sounds wonderfully imaginative and entertaining. I feel like it would make a great addition to my classroom library, too.

    What style is the artwork? More like American comics?

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