A forthcoming graphic novel about an 11 year old Orthodox girl who is a troll slayer.
The artist based his knowledge of Hasidic girl life on Liz Harris, Holy Days; Hella Winston, Unchosen: the hidden lives of Hasidic rebels; Ayala Feder, Mitzvah Girls: Bringing Up the Next Generation of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn; Stephanie Levine, Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey among Hasidic Girls.
The second reviewer here has a nice typology of three approaches to religion in fantasy literature. (1) Make it the point of the book like Narnia (2) Invent a fantasy religion (3) Ignore it. This book offers a fourth way – have the characters be religious but not make it the message of the story. This might actually resonate with the way people see themselves.
Spunky, strong-willed, eleven-year-old Mirka Hirschberg isn’t interested in knitting lessons from her step-mother, or how-to-find-a-husband advice from her sister, or you-better-not warnings from her brother. There’s only one thing she does want: to fight dragons!
Granted, no dragons have been breathing fire around Hereville, the Orthodox Jewish community where Mirka lives, but that doesn’t stop the plucky girl from honing her skills. She… boldly accepts a challenge from a mysterious witch, a challenge that could bring Mirka her heart’s desire: a dragon-slaying sword! All she has to do is find – and outwit – the giant troll who’s got it!
Fruma is Mirka’s stepmother. Even though Fruma is has the longest nose of anyone in Hereville, she’s not an evil stepmother. But she loves an argument! When she’s not making Mirka clean or set the table or learn how to knit, Fruma makes Mirka argue over every little thing.
“Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl,” says the byline. Well seriously. How was I supposed to pass that up?
Mirka has a dream, but it’s not the kind of thing that gets a lot of support. More than anything else in the entire world she wants to fight dragons. The problem? She’s eleven, a girl, and she lives in the Jewish Orthodox town of Hereville.
Think about children’s fantasy novels and religion for a moment. Religion in fantasies for kids tends to skew one of three ways. You can incorporate it and make it the entire point of the novel (Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, the Narnia books of C.S. Lewis, or Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time series which is technically science fiction anyway). You can make up an entirely new religion of your own (as in the novels of Frances Hardinge, Tamora Pierce, Megan Whalen Turner, etc.). Or you just sorta forget about it. Remember, in the Harry Potter novels there may be churches and Christmas, but when wizards marry there’s only a vague representative of some unnamed religion presiding. And children’s graphic novels are in such an infant phase at this point that religion never even comes up half the time.
So Hereville is remarkable right off the bat because it isn’t afraid. It says, “Yeah, I’m gonna incorporate religion into this book. Heck, I’m even gonna TEACH about the religion of Orthodox Jews while I’m at it.”
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. The religion is integral to the story and you wouldn’t want it any other way.