Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hereville How Mirka Got Her Sword

How Mirka Got Her Sword
By Barry Deutsch

One sees a tag line of a book that says 'Yet another Troll-fighting 11-year old Orthodox Jewish Girl' and do you think there is anything else that one would like to do apart from reading the book. Well, at least for me - that is what I did. Especially when it is a graphic novel. I stopped everything else and read the book.

Mirka is a spirited girl who prefers to slay dragons instead of girly things like knitting. Mirka hates all girly things and wants to get hold of a sword to fight dragons. In order to get her sword she has to fight not only a talking pig, a witch and the troll that loves knitting; she has to handle her elder sister who wants to teach her how to behave so that she can marry, her irritating younger sister and an younger brother who thinks only men can slay dragons (but, nevertheless accompanies her in all her adventures). But, the most important impediment as well as her supporter - her step mom, Fruma. 

Most folk tales show step-moms as evil beings with long noses. The long nose part is a bit mysterious - why should evil folks have long noses? Anyway, Fruma is a step-mom with a long nose and when she is introduced in the book almost along with Mirka, I thought - "Oh! my God!. Not another villainous step mom.We have enough of them in Indian tales and television serials".  But, here is where Barry Deustsch spins a nice little twist on the step-mom trope. Although she has a long nose and looks like evil-ly, she has her own agenda on how to bring up kids. She argues with them from both sides of the argument. If the kid says 'I am going to slay dragons', she would argue back - 'Nature created all beings, so do you want to unnecessarily slay a dragon' and so on.. and as soon as the kid accepts the argument and says 'Ok. I will not go and hunt dragons'; she will switch and say - 'So, if the dragons come and kill all of us in the village, would you not be ready to fight for us?'. Although the rest of the kids have learnt enough to not argue with Fruma, our spunky, little Mirka never hesitates to get into another argument with her. Some of the best parts of the book are arguments that Mirka and Fruma get into. 

Another lovely aspect of the book is the setting. The book is set in an orthodox Jewish village. Through Mirka and her family we learn about the orthodox Jewish customs, their dress, their festivals, their cooking and the family values. There is an interesting episode where a group of these Jewish kids see an animal that tries to attack Mirka. She thinks it is a monster and tries to search for it in her carefully-hidden-from-parents monster book. Finally, she realizes through her sister (who had been outside her orthodox village) that the monster is nothing but a pig! I look forward for the next book where Mirka might see a crab. 

I am not sure whom I like better - Barry Deutsch - the Illustrator or Barry Deustch - the Story Teller. Along with a wonderful story, the illustrations are amazing. There is a comic touch to all his illustrations. I got this book as a birthday gift from the kids and spouse. A lovely way to spend the birthday reading about Mirka and imagining if my daughter is turning out to be a Mirka. When I asked Sooraj how he liked the book - he had one word - 'Awesome!'.  Ranjani did not like the ending and thought it was a tad sudden and lacked the panache for such a wonderful story. But, for a person who shuns graphic novels and comic books, Ranjani read the entire book without taking a break and enjoyed it immensely. 

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