In my experience, fantasy novels for children do not like to involve religion in any way, shape, or form. There is religion, fantasy, knitting, some of the best art Ive seen since The Secret Science Alliance, and a story that actually makes you sit up and feel something. As it turns out, the witch tells Mirka that there is a good sword in the neighborhood, but the only way to get it is to defeat a troll. And when push comes to shove, Mirkas going to have to use all her smarts and cunning to defeat an enemy that prizes one of the arts she loathes the most. Think about childrens fantasy novels and religion for a moment. You can incorporate it and make it the entire point of the novel (Philip Pullmans His Dark Materials, the Narnia books of C.S. Lewis or Madeleine LEngles A Wrinkle in Time series which is technically science fiction anyway). And childrens graphic novels are in such an infant phase at this point that religion never even comes up half the time. It says, Yeah, Im gonna incorporate religion into this book. From the different ways girls can be rebellious, pious, or popular in their near identical school clothes to Shabbos to what the three braids of the khale represent (truth, peace, and justice), it's all in there without ever sounding like you're being taught something. However, to defeat her enemy, the troll, Mirka must use a set of skills she acquired at the beginning of this book. What I love is that the skill that comes to her aid isnt her lamentable knitting (the troll insists on a knitting challenge, which Mirka is slightly less than able to do) but rather the art of debate as acquired from her stepmother. You look exactly where you are supposed to, thanks to his cunning art. And its certainly some of the most sophisticated art Ive seen in a childrens graphic novel, that's for sure. The ways in which Gittel looks like her dead mother while Rochel definitely has the beginnings of Frumas nose. Confession: Truth be told, there is very little in this book I do not like. Whats more, it offers me, a childrens librarian, a sneaky way to introduce kids to religions and creeds they might not otherwise have any exposure to in a format they already love. A remarkable little book and, I guarantee, like nothing else you have on your bookstore, library, or personal shelves.
The tag-line for this book says, Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl. Mirka lives with her large family (father, stepmother, six sisters, one brother, one stepsister) in Hereville, an isolated Orthodox Jewish community which seems to exist suspended in space and time (J.K. Rowling is name-checked, so its somewhere in the present, but everyone speaks Yiddish). No dragons were harmed in the making of this book, but Mirka nevertheless does end up meeting a strange entity that leads her to a witch, and thereby to a troll who promises her a proper dragon-slaying sword if she can beat him in a contest.
After arguing with her stepmother, Mirka sneaks out of the house to find the troll.
Eleven-year-old Mirka has a stepmother, and while she may not be an EVIL stepmother, she wants Mirka to learn how to knit.
This is a book that I picked up because I really liked the plot summary: a young girl who's determined to be a dragonslayer. I can see where this could an exciting book for a young reader who can see herself and her family in Mirka and hers. For me, it was exactly the sort of effortless diversity that I love to see in middle grade (and children's, and young adult, and adult...) books.
Mirka is a bit of a rebel in some ways, but overall she's true to her family and her beliefs without sacrificing her need for adventure. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but I hope this graphic novel reaches that community and is well-loved. Mirka is passionate about her desire for action and adventure, but just as passionate about her love of her late mother, as well as the rest of her family.
I loved this odd and beguiling graphic novel, which seems to be Barry Deutsch's first book. I wonder what Orthodox Jewish readers have made of this book.
The subtitle for this all-ages graphic novel is "yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl" which gives you an idea of how unique this book is.