Each summer when I teach children's literature, my students and I enjoy exploring different types of children's books. Folktales are among our favorites. This week's picture book is an example.
Herb is a vegetarian. That wouldn't be unusual if Herb was a rabbit or a squirrel. It wouldn't be unusual if Herb was a human, either. But he's a dragon, and, as legend goes, dragons are meat-eaters.
"Herb, The Vegetarian Dragon" is written by Jules Bass. The colorful, detailed artwork is done by Debbie Harter. It's a humorous book, indeed.
The setting is the forest of 1'ifogard with Castle Dark, a purple castle, at its center. Bright red dragons with purple or green spines and black- and white-striped abdomens creep around in the forest.
To say the dragons are nuisances is to put it mildly.
Imagine being in a castle and looking up to see a dragon peering through the window. At night, the dragons fly around, flames shooting from their mouths and smoke escaping through their nostrils, just hunting for a princess or knight. Besides that, the dragons eat up all of the wild boar meat.
During the day, while Meathook, leader of the dragons, and the others are in a cave planning the nightly raid, Herb is tending to the cauliflowers, radishes, carrots, red and yellow peppers and other vegetables in his garden.
Birds, butterflies, and bees fly around and sometimes land on Herb. A little girl occasionally sits on the wall that surrounds the garden.
Herb is a friendly dragon.
It's not surprising that the people of the kingdom have had it with the dragons. So one night, the knights gather around a big table (covered with a green, white-dotted tablecloth) to make a plan to get rid of the dragons. However, it won't be easy; the king has decreed that the dragons be captured alive.
The knights don't notice a spy dragon, who watches, listens and reports back to Meathook. He orders the dragons to stay hidden and wait it out.
Armed with swords and ropes, the knights head out, but for seven days and seven nights they don't find a single dragon.
Now Herb, who knows nothing about the stay-hidden plan, is busy cooking up Herb's Favorite Lakewater Veggie Soup in a big black pot. And on the very last day of the dragon hunt, guess who the knights find?
There's a lot more fun to be had in this delightful book.
The colorful illustrations, done in watercolor pen and ink and crayon, are full of details that the observant reader will enjoy.
For example, one of the dragons is very old. His body is all wrinkled. So is his cane.
Among the knights is a young fellow who is more interested in petting a cat than planning a dragon raid. The cat has a unique body design, and his front legs are of different colors.
And there's a lot more to see.
Barefoot Books first published this award-winning book in the United States in 1999. The paperback book is $6.99.
Copyright Diane Prather, 2007. All rights reserved.