Herb, The Vegetarian Dragon
By Jules Bass and Debbie Harter, Barefoot Books
Herb is a vegetarian dragon who tends a garden with his little human friend Nicole as the other dragons eat people in the Kingdom. The knights of Castle Dark have a plan to capture and kill the dragons. Herb gets captured and is sentenced to execution. When Meathook, the leader of the carnivore dragons offers to break Herb out of jail if he eats meat, Herb refuses, insisting that he is a vegetarian. Right before the execution, Nicole rushes to Herb’s defense just as Meathook is caught eavesdropping and is also captured. The King of Nogard proclaims that he will not kill the dragons if they stop tormenting the kingdom so that they can all live in peace.
A warning to teachers: as the idea of executions is quite mature and frightening, please use your own discretion for the appropriate age to read this book to.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Narisa Bandali
Herb, The Vegetarian Dragon brings up many philosophical issues that are prominent for kids. The first is punishment. Herb is captured by the knights for no other reason than because he is a dragon. Kids will recognize that this isn’t right, especially when, in the book, Herb wonders what he has done and no one tells him. Interesting threads to discuss on this topic could include why the knights sought to punish the dragons, if it was okay to seek out the dragons because they were eating the people of the kingdom, or if it wasn’t right because the dragons were merely doing what they needed to do to survive. Was the punishment the kingdom gave Herb fair? Capital punishment is a very severe sentence and may not be the type of punishment you want to discuss with your kids. However, time-outs and other punishments that the kids are familiar with are great situations to discuss. They would present the opportunity to discuss the fairness in punishment, and when it is appropriate.
The issue of individuality versus conformity is frequently noted throughout the book. Herb is a vegetarian, making him different from the other dragons; in fact, the other dragons do not even consort with him because of his eating choice. However, when Meathook offers to break Herb out of jail if he’ll eat the offered meat, Herb refuses. Herb maintains that if he doesn’t interfere with the other dragons’ eating habits, why should they try to control his?
This should be a topic that kids would readily discuss. They all face some type of conformity issue, whether it be the latest fashion style or what game to play at recess. This could easily evolve into a discussion on role models, should the kids start to talk about who they try to imitate. These people could range from parents or siblings, to celebrities, to athletes, to political figures. Regardless, this is an excellent direction to allow the discussion to take. It is important to have the kids provide examples, and in this case, personal ones. When have they either succumbed or stayed strong against peer pressure? Why did they make the choices they did?
Another direction you could lead the discussion is to due process, that every man is innocent until proven guilty. This is a feature of the society we live in, and something kids grow up aware of. Due process is present every time they are falsely blamed for something they didn’t do, like how Herb was falsely accused of eating the princesses.
While the kids might not understand the actual term “due process” or court proceedings, they will most definitely understand “innocent” and “guilty”. They will probably recognize or voice that almost killing Herb just because he is a dragon is wrong. This could also lead to the topic of judging others, prejudices and stereotypes, particularly with question five of the Due Process Question Set. All of this is easily relatable to kids’ lives, even if it is being falsely accused of talking during a test. Some kids might bring up the lack of proof or evidence against Herb. This would be an excellent thread of discussion to follow.
A third issue brought up by Herb, The Vegetarian Dragon is trust. Trust is a very large topic rarely discussed without being in conjunction with something else, like friendship or family. However, trust is a huge issue in the book. Nicole, the little girl, trusts that Herb won’t eat her, even if the rest of the kingdom doesn’t. Then, the kingdom proceeds to trust that Nicole is right. These are big ideas and bring up big questions. Herb is a dragon, and is the brethren to many vicious and presumably untrustworthy dragons. What would make Nicole trust Herb in the first place? As well, traditionally, a child isn’t taken at their word about serious matters like trials. So why did the kingdom believe Nicole right away? Trust is the intangible type of idea that kids might struggle with and they might connect it with emotions such as love, or friendship. It might be important to first come up with a group definition of the word ‘trust‘ or the idea of being ‘trustworthy‘ before delving into questions.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
Thousands of people crowded into the square as Herb was dragged from his cell toward the beheading platform.
Individuality vs. Conformity
But one dragon was different. For Herb was a vegetarian.
“What have I done?” thought Herb.
Then she climbed right into Herb’s mouth and sat there, with only her legs dangling free.