The publicist at Abrams tells me it’s unusual for one book to receive over two starred reviews from the professional book press; Hereville has now gotten four. Wow! (Whoops, make that five! See the update at the bottom of this post.)
This newest starred review comes from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. Previous starred reviews have come from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and School Library Journal.
Raised in a closed Orthodox Jewish community, Mirka can’t even identify the strange animal she encounters as a pig; not only is it a pig, however, it’s a magical pig that belongs to a witchy woman who sees Mirka’s deepest wishes—to fight monsters and to be a hero—and offers her a quest to get a sword. Mirka must avoid shaming her family, getting into trouble, and, of course, being eaten by a troll, and, to her utter shock, she must actually use the knitting tricks and debate skills her stepmother has been patiently teaching her rather than any imagined sword-wielding prowess she has yet to test.
Deutsch carefully integrates Jewish traditions and customs as well as numerous Yiddish, Hebrew, and religious terms (made clear with definitions at the bottoms of pages) into this spirited graphic novel based on a webcomic. The result is an elegant, subtle examination into the gender roles, deep religious roots, and everyday cultural elements of an Orthodox Jewish society, while also being a witty, enormously clever adventure quest featuring a girl who will happily and firmly inform you that she is, indeed, hero material.
The story is primarily focused on the women in Mirka’s life, and their characters are well developed, from the perfectly balanced Fruma (who can be soothing, practical, or stern) to the mysterious and sardonic woman in the woods who helps Mirka fulfill her imagined destiny. The illustrations push their limits to enhance rather than simply reflect the text, with speech bubbles sometimes crowding the page and occasionally taking on shapes relevant to the words they contain; two colors—a creamy orange that represents day, and a smoky blue background once Mirka sneaks off in the night to face the troll—predominate.
Rare indeed is the book that successfully juggles adventure and religion, and the fact that this one perfectly handles a troll with a taste for both girls and knitting, the indelible ties of family, and traditional religious rituals in a way that informs outsiders makes it rarer still.
Wow! Thanks to the reviewer!
UPDATE: Make that five starred reviews! Thank you, Bank Street College of Education.