How Mirka Caught a Fish is the third in the Hereville graphic novel series. The story stands well on its own for readers jumping into the series at this point. The book tells the tale of an eleven-year-old time-traveling Orthodox Jewish babysitter charged with taking care of her disapproving little sister Layele for the afternoon while their parents are out. The no nonsense protagonist is a girl hero who goes against the usual grain. Readers may be used to girls like Mirka who are ready for adventure and speak up for what they want but in Mirka’s world she ruffles feathers, giving her brother a hug as he leaves for a trip. He responds: “There’s an ORDER to the world! Girls shouldn’t go around hugging boys!” Readers will not see a spandex suit and a cape. Mirka dresses modestly in a long skirt with a question and exclamation mark pattern as well as layered shapeless shirts. Characters includes an angry, magic fish with a grudge as well as a witch and a magic troll that looks like a giant insect. The story takes place in a suburban and rural setting that could possibly be the northwest United States. The images are lively, active, saturated, rich and colorful. In this story, Mirka discovers her stepmother was not always this religious. She was once, shockingly for her daughters, secular or as they call it “modernish.” Chock full of Jewish content, it is understood that the characters are speaking Yiddish because English speakers get a special font. Yiddish phrases like: “Vos hostu geton?/What did you do?” And “malekh ha maves/the angel of death” are used by the characters and translated at the bottom of the page. Mirka asks her sister: “Dos dakht zikh mir oyberlfekhkik? Or “Isn’t that shallow of their stepmother to wish to be pretty?” There are no hook noses; Mirka’s stepmother’s long nose is more like Jughead of Archie fame. Mirka and Layele gawk at the nakedness of modern people who are not in the habit of dressing modestly.
How Mirka Caught a Fish has conflict and resolution as well as the universal appeal of adventure and righting a wrong. The underlying concept in the book is that while there are rules, they are made to be stretched and even broken. Additionally people who seem to follow those rules to the letter of the law now may not have always done so.
Recommended for ages 8 – 12.
Dina Weinstein is a Richmond, Virginia-based writer.