I became aware of the delightful Hereville series by Barry Deutsch through my friend Adrian Wallace. He drew the backgrounds for Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish, the 3rd book about “yet another 11-year-old time travelling Orthodox Jewish babysitter.” Mirka is also a troll fighter and meteor conqueror, which is amazing in that she lives in a quiet sheltered Orthodox village.
When Adrian explained to me what it was about, I was intrigued. When I read the first book, How Mirka Got Her Sword, I was totally hooked. I read the second, How Mirka Met a Meteorite, and then had to wait for the third to come out. Now it’s here! I love Mirka’s story so much I really wish it was a weekly, or even, should I be so blessed, a daily strip.
Mirka is a feisty, flawed and highly imaginative 11 year old. That she lives in a sheltered and devout community doesn’t keep her from being a universal character. She lives in a blended family, with a step-mother and step-siblings. Sometimes, she fits in. Sometimes, not so much. She’s strong-willed but her stepmother Fruma isn’t trying to break Mirka’s spirit so much as to keep focused on the skills she’ll need in life.
There’s something wonderfully mysterious about Fruma and her support of Mirka, and as the story unfolds, that mystery deepens. Deutsch is a gifted storyteller who creates adventures that are both original and hair-raising. And it’s not sword play that gets dear Mirka out of trouble. In each volume, you feel satisfied with the conclusions, but he’s planted seeds and tweaked curiosity. You’ll want more.
The setting in an Orthodox community is brilliant. Deutsch gives us lots of information on how the community works. The Hirschberg family is large – 8 sisters and 1 brother. There’s a lot of family dynamics to navigate. There are bullies to dodge – or to challenge, which is what Mirka chooses. When her imagination and ego fail her, magic intervenes, and, also, her devotion to Hashem.
In How Mirka Got Her Sword, she encounters real magic for the first time and must outwit – and out knit — a troll. The key to victory is as surprising as it humorous.
In How Mirka Met a Meteorite, she unwittingly helps bring a meteorite to life as her twin, then must figure out how to be a better Mirka than her almost perfect impersonator.
In How Mirka Caught a Fish, published last month by Amulet Books, she faces her greatest challenge – babysitting. One would think that would be easy enough for a girl who has triumphed over so many adversaries, but she takes her little sister into the forbidden woods and rouses the ire of a fish who is on a mission to bring down Mirka’s whole family.
The artwork is crisp, expressive, and easy to fall into. Layouts change and engage the reader. The colors are warm, natural and inviting. (Jake Richmond did the colors of all three books.) You get a little more from the story with each re-read.
I think the most impressive thing about this series is that in its own circuitous way, it normalizes a way of life that may seem impenetrable to those of us who live outside it. Though the adventures are fantastical, the characters seem real. Their day to day life and the way they deal with each other shows the universal nature of family and community. Both magic and the Orthodox belief system breathe life into Hereville and, all in all, it seems a wondrous place to live.
In a world where we’re being fed fear of other cultures almost constantly, this a rare and delightful gift.
I can’t wait for the next one.
You can find Barry Deutch’s Hereville website here for more information on the series and where to buy the books.
You can find more of Adrian Wallace’s work here.
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