Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish by Barry Deutsch
|Book Name:||How Mirka Caught a Fish|
|Publisher(s):||Harry N. Abrams|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Ebook|
|Genre(s):||Middle Grade Fantasy / Comic Book|
|Release Date:||November 3, 2015|
Mirka of Hereville has defeated a troll in a knitting contest and won her home back from a meteorite that tried to take her place in her family, but now she faces a challenge both potentially more familiar to her readers and more difficult: babysitting her bratty six-year-old half-sister Layele. Mirka, being Mirka, doesn’t take well to being saddled with a six-year-old, especially when her stepmother forbids her from going into the forest while watching the girl. Naturally, as soon as her stepmother drives off with her younger two siblings, Mirka heads straight for the forest, Layele in tow.
And who can blame her? Minutes before getting in the car, her stepmother mentioned that she had gone into the forest when she was Mirka’s age and seen things there that she could hardly describe. Coming from a woman who at first seemed like nothing more than the fairy tale stepmother who would try to keep our intrepid heroine from delving into a world of magic and adventure, it’s an incredible revelation, and you wouldn’t need Mirka’s curiosity to pursue that mystery.
As in the previous book, her adventure begins by going to the troll, who gets along wonderfully with Layele due to their shared dislike of Mirka (and let me just say that I never thought I would enjoy a conversation between a troll and a six-year-old as much as I did this one). When Mirka demands the troll help them find out what happened with her stepmother in the forest years ago, he gives her a hair tie that will allow her to travel through time and observe the past. Satisfied with that, Mirka heads back home to run the errands she needs to before Shabbos starts.
But naturally, things start to go haywire long before that.
The magic hair tie transports Mirka and Layele thirty-five years into the past, where they see a younger version of Mirka’s stepmother meeting the witch. She and the witch get into an argument, which Mirka’s stepmother (unsurprisingly) wins, and in return, the witch gives her a way to capture a fish that will grant wishes. Anyone familiar with fairy tales involving wish-granting magical creatures can tell quite easily where this is going.
Even with knowledge of that trope, the story doesn’t feel like just a rehashing of lessons I’ve already learned. “Be careful what you wish for” is only part of it; as with the other books, it manages to pack a great deal into under a hundred and fifty pages, and graphic novel pages at that. It deals with cleverness, and consequences, and a beautiful depiction of empathy and mercy, and how neither are as clean and simple as they are made to seem in traditional Western fairy tales.
I think that’s what I like most about this series. I’ve always had a rather complicated relationship to stories with morals, especially stories directed at kids. So often, it seems like they’re the sorts of morals that are perfectly obvious, and that they’re presented in so heavy-handed and somber a manner that they seem like wisdom passed down from on high. In the Hereville series, though, the morals are presented in a much more light-hearted fashion, and they’re much more complex, though it likely helps the last point that the books are aimed at children just reaching the age where they truly must start to understand how complex the world around them is. While I may not like morals to stories, I will say that they are sometimes necessary, and when presented in such a manner as the Hereville series does, they are even enjoyable.
They’re important lessons, too. Empathy and mercy, especially coming from a girl as hot-headed as Mirka, strike even stronger chords when they’re presented as issues that are complex and even painful. Sometimes it seems like cruelty can be the easier choice – even the just choice – which is certainly not what we’ve learned from our usual fairy tales and Disney’s retellings of them.
Those fairy tales also neglect to teach that knowing how to argue is just as important a skill as knowing how to fight dragons, or that your imperfections are what make you more who you are than your perfections. While I will admit that it is important to know not to take apples from strange old women walking by your house and that throwing a frog against a wall will turn it into a handsome prince, the morals presented in the Hereville series make for more compelling stories, and they are presented in ways that make you laugh even before you realize there’s a lesson involved. It’s a little like hiding medicine inside something sweet, but in this case, the medicine wouldn’t even be hard to swallow in the first place.
As I said in my reviews for the first two books, this one is excellent. Sure, it may come from the kids’ section of my public library, but considering the way I devoured all three, they’re excellent reading material for adults as well.