Hereville: how Mirka got her sword by Barry Deutsch
Amulet Books, 2010
Mirka wants to be a dragonslayer, but that profession doesn't exactly jive with her Orthodox Jewish upbringing. One day on her way to school, Mirka comes across a spectacular building with a woman floating in the front yard. When she tells her sisters and brother, they don't believe her so she finds the building again and picks a giant grape. Although the grape doesn't bite her, the giant pig who now follows her around might! How can she possibly get rid of it?
This graphic novel is a whole lot of fun, and I really appreciated how her religion and lifestyle played a large yet not oppressive role. Mirka's Yiddish sayings are defined at the bottom of the page, her family's beliefs are shown and explained clearly, and the conflict between her dream to be a dragonslayer and her family's beliefs was made evident. In fact, the tagline on the cover of the book really captures the sentiment throughout: "Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl." What's not to love about that?
The drawings themselves are line drawings with black ink, greys, and apart from the night-time scenes in grey-blues, the only colours are beige and an orange shade. I enjoyed Deutsch's style, which is fairly simple but with lots of expression and movement. There is a wide variety of panel layouts throughout, but they would be easy to follow and understand for even those who are new to graphic novels. I particularly adored how he drew the troll, and appreciated the back matter in which Deutsch showed how many iterations of the troll he went through before deciding on the final design.
Hereville should hold great appeal for upper elementary or middle grade students who like fantasy, or fans of graphic novels with strong female protagonists like Rapunzel's Revenge.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Raincoast Books, 2007
Admittedly, it is a source of youth librarian shame that I haven't read the final Harry Potter book until now, years after it was published. Better late than never, I suppose!
As the last book in the ground-breaking series, I had high hopes for this novel, and for the most part I wasn't disappointed. The characters remained as consistent as always, loose ends were tied up, and tension and suspense permeated the entire novel. I particularly enjoyed learning about Dumbledore's past and watching Harry grapple with what he should believe about his mentor. I have also been curious about Snape's true motivations and that, too, was revealed.
My favourite parts of the novel were the lighter bits, of which there were few. The Weasley family as a whole are the group of characters I enjoy the most throughout the series, especially the family dynamics and Fred and George's antics, and the funnier moments in the book almost invariably involved one Weasley or another.
One thing I have always admired about Rowling's writing is her ability to keep information hidden from both the book's characters and the reader, while making the thread of logic and discovery make complete sense once the revelation comes out. One of my gripes about some children's literature is that crucial bits of information are terribly obvious to the reader but the characters just can't seem to see what is right in front of their noses, and this often frustrates me. I have never had this frustration with Rowling.
*Spoilers ahead* My one gripe about this book is the climatic final battle between Harry and Voldemort. For something that has taken seven books and thousands of pages to come to a head, I found it disappointing. While most of their direct conflicts involved Harry surviving due to a twist of logic or something Voldemort forgot about, the final battle between the two seemed very quick and wordy and (again) involved something Voldemort didn't consider in his calculations and his overall underestimation of Harry. While I can see a lesson there about arrogance vs. reflection, etc., and while I suppose the only way anyone could have defeated Voldemort was by finding holes in his plan and capitalizing on them, the climax wasn't as epic as I would have liked. Sure, there was a Death Eaters and Dementors versus Order of the Phoenix and Hogwarts students battle, but even that was a sideline event. While the pace at the end was breathless and I was very happy to see the end of the Dark Lord, there was something missing for me. *End spoilers*
This is not to say that I wasn't completely sucked into the book for its entirety - in fact, for the final 200 pages I could not bear to put the book down. Perhaps my reaction to the finale was due to the late (early?) hour, but on the other hand I appreciated the epilogue and thought it was an appropriate book-end to the very beginning of Harry's story: on platform 9 3/4. Overall, a satisfying conclusion to a wonderful series.