Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword coverEleven-year-old Mirka lives in Hereville, a town in an unnamed country where (almost) everyone is Jewish. Aside from her responsibilities as a daughter (do your chores, protect your brother) and as a Jewish girl (help prepare for the Sabbath), Mirka’s stepmother, Fruma, insists that Mirka work hard at preparing to be a competent wife, which means learning “womanly arts” like knitting. What Mirka really wants to do is fight dragons, which in Hereville is not exactly outlandish — just unacceptable for a girl. Still, when a local witch offers Mirka a gift in exchange for the girl’s defence of the witch’s pig from some bullies, Mirka is thrilled to hear that said gift is a chance to win a sword for herself. All Mirka has to do is sneak out of the house, get past a brother intent on protecting her, and defeat a troll. In a knitting contest. If she can pull it off, Mirka will be one step closer to becoming a heroine. If not, she’ll be lunch.

Hereville’s mix of cultural insight — readers will find guides to Jewish customs and translations of Yiddish words throughout — and naturalised fantasy provides an unexpected but effective setting for Mirka’s first story, in which she begins to understand the need to balance her own desires with her responsibilities to her family. The educational aspect of the story does peek through a bit in the extended description of Sabbath customs, but otherwise the story progresses smoothly, culminating in a genuinely surprising, but very fitting conclusion. I can’t wait to get the sequel from the library!

Find reviews at Comics Worth Reading and School Library Journal (scroll to the bottom to catch an interview with Barry Deutsch!)

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Ten: Fathers and Mothers, Daughters and Sons

It’s not uncommon for parents to play a minimal role — or no role at all — in children’s and YA fiction. It gives the protagonists additional space and agency to explore themselves and their world, and allows readers to do so vicariously. Even so, the parent-child relationship remains an important one for young readers, and plenty of books offer insight into both its challenges and its potential. This week’s Ten suggests that even when parents are distant, even when they break trust, there is a place for hope in love and the possibility of restoration.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
Zoe’s dreams and her father’s psychological limitations come into conflict, introducing new tension into a quirky but loving father-daughter relationship. Growth in both characters makes this a very satisfying story. Continue reading