30 January 2011

Rave Review: Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

Now--here's something you don't see everyday. A graphic novel (or any book for that matter,) with the by-line, "Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish Girl." Whaaaat?! You can't judge a book by its cover, but you sure can be pulled in by a hook like that. And since Hereville is one of the contenders for the School Library Journal Battle of the Kid's Books, and I need to make some serious hay with that list.......no brainer.

The story is this: Mirka Hirschberg wants more from life than knowing how to knit and snare a good husband. She wants to slay dragons. But to slay dragons, she needs a sword. When the opportunity arrives for her to gain such a sword, she takes her chance. Pretty straightforward, right? Well, as Hamlet said, "There's the rub." Because beyond the graphic novel format, it is difficult to pigeon hole this book as a type.

First, there is the cultural angle. Everything I knew previously about Orthodox Judaism I learned from Chaim Potok, so I felt reasonably well-armed to absorb any cultural differences which I might encounter in the reading. But truthfully, no previous knowledge is necessary to enjoy the book, and not just because Mirka is a feisty, headstrong girl, and feisty, headstrong girls are a staple of childrens' literature whatever the culture. Let us not underestimate the importance of Mirka's heritage--this story works so well because she is an Orthodox Jewish girl. But while this book provides a window on Orthodox Jewish life, that's not what it is about. Nor, despite some angsty moments, is it about a tween trying to break free from a life that everyone but an Orthodox Jew would find unusual. You could call it an adventure book because there is lots of adventure--fast-paced, hair-raising, breath-taking adventure--contained in these pages. Then again, it is also a family drama, as readers meet Mirka and her rather large blended family. Witches, trolls, and dragons are discussed with a completely straight face, so in some ways the book is a fantasy. And last, but not least, it is FUNNY! Perhaps it is just me, but does anyone else find the words "funny" and "orthodox-anything" a strange mash-up? Well it works here. I'm not giving anything away when I say there is a scene towards the end where Mirka is fighting for her life, and it had me.....well.....in stitches.

So who should read Hereville? Everyone! Wise and daring, spiritual and exciting, poignant and hilarious--this book has it all. Fans of graphic novels will appreciate such a quality addition to their favorite genre. Readers new to the format will be impressed by the mediums efficiency and unique ability to propel this most original story. I am probably being greedy to hope for a sequel, but there is one unresolved revelation that I would like to know more about. So here's hoping.

FYI--like Wimpy Kid before it, Hereville started life as a web-comic. (The similarities pretty much stop there.) Anyone who has read the web-comic will want to get their hands on the graphic novel, because there is loads of new art and the story has been expanded. If you read the book first, check out the original to see how the story grew and developed.


LitLass said...

I just finished this one and really liked it, too. My 8-year-old is in the middle of it and said it's really good, although now he likes to call me a meshugeneh. I would love to see a sequel as well.

Pam Tee said...

I love it, Kara! HEREVILLE sounds awesome. And fun. And spunky. And really different.

One of the reasons I love your blog... you have a nose for ferreting out good reads.


ps-- 'Keeper' is on the Battle list?!?
('course I'm writing this not remembering if your reviewed it or not; or liked it or not. A no-finish for me)

Kara Schaff Dean said...

I've passed it on to my 9--nearly 10--year old, who is developing a taste for graphic novels. I will then pass it on to my 38 year old brother--it's that good!

Thanks for dropping by, Litlass :)

Kara Schaff Dean said...

Hi Pam!

I have not yet read Keeper, but I did check it out of the library yesterday. With 15 titles still to digest, I don't know that I will get through many of the BoB contenders this year. But after the triumph last year of a non-fiction picture book (as both the main winner, and the Undead choice,) I'm hoping that the graphic novel nominees are in with a good shot this year. 'Cause I will have read those!

Barry Deutsch said...

Thanks so much for this review! It's really nice for me to read. Hereville is a very oddball book in some ways, and the openness of librarians and teachers to what I'm trying to do has made a huge difference.

Speaking of which, I'm happy to say, Abrams has signed me up for two more Hereville books... and I hope there will be several more after that.

Kara, if you don't mind my asking, which is the "unresolved revelation that I would like to know more about"? I'm guessing it's Fruma's background, but I'm wondering if I'm right. :-)

Kara Schaff Dean said...

Hi Barry--

I'm so excited to hear about sequels! Thanks for sharing that news. I am indeed intrigued by Fruma's background. I am guessing that her reaction to Mirka's adventures was due to more than simple adult alarm at danger......

Thank you for writing such a great book, and thanks for stopping by my blog :D

Betsy Parkes said...

I love children's book, but honestly have yet to read a single graphic novel. I guess they haven't ever made it to the top of my list. Until now! I'm gonna get this book on my next library trip. It's sounds very intriguing and I love the bits of humor that you included in your post about it. Thanks for letting us know about it.

I've just discovered your site, and have bookmarked it so that I'll remember to check back often. :)

Betsy Parkes

Kara Schaff Dean said...

Thank you so much for stopping by, Betsy. Have fun discovering the wonderful work of graphic novels! You are in good hands starting with this one.

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