I really loved Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword when it first came out, so I don’t know why I hadn’t read this one, or even shared the first with my son. Still, it was the most familiar title I hadn’t read on the Cybils Middle Grade Graphic Novel shortlist, and one I was sure he would enjoy, so it’s the first one I turned to when we needed a new book to read together.
Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite by Barry Deutsch Amulet Books, 2012.
11-year-old Mirka is a child somewhere in the middle of a large, blended Orthodox Jewish family located somewhere in the United States. In the first book, she defeated a troll and won a sword for herself, though the troll is still keeping it for her as she doesn’t have a place to store a sword in her shared bedroom. And she’s spending way more time in that bedroom than an active girl can really stomach, as she’s still grounded from her stepmother finding out that she was talking to the local witch. Knitting is growing old, her stepmother can beat her at chess way too easily… when she’s finally allowed to go outside, the first thing Mirka does is run to the troll to get her sword so she can wave it around in the air dramatically.
Trolls are tricky creatures, though, and this visit ends with a meteorite hurtling straight towards Hereville. I especially admired Deutsch’s use of panels as Mirka is running as fast as she can to the witch, the only person she can think of who might be able to stop the meteorite in time. Rows of tiny panels, each frame filled with her running and her frantic thoughts, are covered over by a bigger drawing of her still running. Spoiler alert: Mirka makes it in time. Hereville is saved. But the result is still a mess that completely derails Mirka’s life and forces her to take a very close look at who she really is and what’s important to her in her life. Like, maybe looking neater and prettier and being better at school and sports aren’t really as important as she’s always thought they were.
This reflection comes out of a very funny, action-filled story, though, and never feels preachy. Mirka is still completely lovably headstrong, prone to getting herself into scrapes that take a good deal of effort to get herself out of. In addition to the fun story with heart, I loved that Mirka (despite how much she loves her sword) actually manages once again to solve her problems without violence. I haven’t seen too many children’s books starring Orthodox Jews, and fantasy books featuring conservative religious people of any mainstream, real Earth religion are pretty thin on the ground, so this is welcome for its diversity on top on being just a plain good story. Deutsch, as I mentioned, does great things with the deceptively simple-looking art. The boy pushed me to finish reading this to him in just two sessions, because it was too exciting to stop. For Cybils consideration, though – now that I’ve read this and March – how do you choose between a brave and inspiring fantasy girl and a brave and inspiring real-life Civil Rights activist turned senator?