Have you ever felt a conviction so deeply that you would be willing to walk the plank into a moat full of ravenous alligators rather than act against that conviction? If so, then you have something in common with the hero of “Herb the Vegetarian Dragon” by Jules Bass and Debbie Harter, our read-aloud selection this evening.
Every dragon in the forest of Nogard is a meat-eater, except for Herb. While his fire-breathing brethren eat “all the best boar meat” in the forest and terrorize the people of Castle Dark each night to enjoy “the sweet taste of royal princesses and the crispy crunch of brave knights,” Herb is content to spend his time tending his vegetable garden. Eventually, the brave knights of Castle Dark, led by Bernard the Bold, have had enough and hatch a plan to hunt down all the dragons in the forest and make them walk the plank into the alligator-infested moat. The carnivorous dragons of Nogard – led by the aptly-named Meathook – are forewarned of the danger and go into hiding. Herb, who is blissfully unaware of Bernard’s plan, remains in the open and is eventually captured and chained up at Castle Dark. On the evening before his execution by alligator, Herb receives a visit from a devilish Meathook who offers to spring him from his cell if Herb will prove his loyalty by eating a piece of wild boar meat. Staying true to himself, Herb refuses Meathook’s offer, saying “I’ll take my chances.”
The next day, just as he is about to be pushed into the moat, Herb is saved by the intervention of a little girl who attests to Herb’s gentle nature. However, an eavesdropping Meathook is captured and dragged before the king, who spares his life on the condition that the dragons of Nogard give up eating people forever. Meathook confers with his gang, and after much deliberation they decide that they can learn to survive on boar’s meat and can learn from Herb how to grow their own vegetables in order that they may live in peace with the people of Castle Dark. The book ends with dragons and people – vegetarians and meat-eaters alike – living together in harmony. Kumbaya.
All joking aside, our girls enjoyed this book for its colorful and goofy illustrations – and the text, while lengthy, is fun to read aloud with plenty of opportunities for silly voices and dramatic narration. Another nice thing about the book is the fact that Herb clearly enjoys tending to his vegetable garden, and eating vegetables is important to him. At the same time, the moral of the story – that it is okay to be different and to stand up for what you believe in even in the face of peer pressure – is delivered in a rather ham-handed manner and with some inconsistencies. Parents may also find fault with the (sometimes gory) violence and name-calling in the book. We did.
If these shortcomings do not bother you, we discovered that the book will also be available in Spanish on March 31, 2016.