BOOK AND COOK CORNER: Herb, The Vegetarian Dragon


For Grades K-3


                                                            We’ll singe ‘em, fry ‘em,

                                                             Boil ‘em in a pot.

                                                             Stew ‘em, steam ‘em.

                                                              The whole juicy lot!

                                                                                      -From Herb, The Vegetarian Dragon

Herb, The Vegetarian Dragon by Jules Bass is a charming story about learning to accept those that are different from you.  The story opens with a whimsical picture of Meathook, the leader of the dragons, and his dragon friends carrying away the knights and princesses of the kingdom of Nogard.  Make sure to allow children the fun of acting out the dragons “pounding on the earthen floor” while they sing the song above.   This is in sharp contrast to Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon, who is peacefully tending his garden of peas, turnips and peppers.

When reading this with children, discuss the meaning of “vegetarian.”  Also, many were not familiar with some of the vegetable in Herb’s garden so take some time to talk about the vegetables mentioned in the book (turnips, leeks, parsnips, parsley) and match them with the vegetables in the illustration of Herb’s garden.

The story revolves around the meat-eating dragons, the gentle vegetarian, Herb, and the people of the kingdom who are trying to curb the meat-eaters from doing away with their members.  This sounds violent but the colorful cartoon-ish pictures let readers know that this is a fictional tale.

Later, Herb faces a crisis of conscience when Meathook  promises to release Herb from prison if he agrees to stop eating meat.  This is a wonderful place to stop and ask children what they would do in this situation and why.  Remember, there are no “wrong” answers as you are asking children for their opinion!

The story has a satisfying ending and ending illustration.  Can your child identify all the vegetables on the end paper?

A perfect after-book activity is to make a vegetable dip to accompany carrots, celery and slices of red or yellow peppers!  You can use what’s in your fridge or try this Green Genie dip for vegetables or on bread:  (Note, if nut allergies are a concern, substitute a large dill pickle for the walnuts.)

This dip was featured in my local newspaper recently and it is a winner!:

Green Genie Sandwich Spread (Garlic-Artichoke Spread):

By Elizabeth Karmel

Makes about 1 ¼ cups (10 servings)

1 can water-packed artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained

1/3 cup roasted pistachios or other favorite nut

3 cloves of garlic

1 cup packed curly parsley, washed and dried

Zest and juice of a large lemon

1/3 cup best-quality extra-virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt or more to taste

White pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in a blender or a food processer fitted with the “S” blade. Process until smooth and pureed. Depending on your blender, you may need to use a spoon to move the ingredients as you process them.

Place in a non-reactive container until ready to use. Will keep in refrigerator for up to one week.

Happy Reading, Talking and Eating!

Extension Activities:  Compare and Contrast Meathook and Herb; ask children to create or share family vegetarian recipes for a community cookbook;  act out favorite scenes; reread the book and have students make personal lists of powerful vocabulary to use in their personal writing.

The Kitchen: The Original Maker Space!


Genre: Cookbooks and Food-Themed Books (K-12)

Why Should Kids Cook or Bake Using Recipes?

As a reading specialist, I have been immersed over the past year in researching and developing virtual reality lessons for students that would promote literacy and student engagement..  My next step was to design an after-school curriculum.  I was especially interested in the research that showed how these virtual reality experiences could build empathy and knowledge.  As I pondered the best way to go about this, I realized that children may not need any more opportunities to engage with technology after school.  Wherever I go, children as young as a year old are on ipads and/or smartphones.  I started to yearn for not to design a technology-based hands-on experience but just a hands-on experience that would build knowledge, be engaging and build empathy.  As I thought about it, I realized that old standby, connecting students with food-themed books and cookbooks while having  them follow recipes would accomplish that! The kitchen was the original MakerSpace!  Here are just some of the reasons that I think we should focus more attention on cooking and baking with children:

Reading and Following Recipes builds Comprehension!  An important component of reading comprehension is matching your reading speed to the task at hand in order to facilitate understanding.  Following a recipe usually requires skills like scanning, reading over the recipe quickly to get an overview of the steps and materials needed and close reading, reading each part of the recipe slowly in order to complete each step.

Reading and Following Recipes Expands Vocabulary!  Just savor the vocabulary that a child would be exposed to while reading the “Flaky Apple Strudel” recipe from Diane Simone Vezza’s Passport on a Plate: strudel, flaky, whirlpool, granulated, phyllo, thawed, confectioners’, wafers.  Most recipes offer similar opportunities for students to be exposed to new vocabulary in context.

Cooking and Baking Requires Following Written Directions!  Following written directions is an essential skill that each student must master to be successful in the school environment.  This is especially true with written assessments which require students to independently read and carry out sometimes multi-step directions.  Cooking and baking gives children real world experience in following directions, including suffering the consequences of leaving out an ingredient, mismeasuring and/or not following the recipe.

Cooking and Baking Builds Math and Science Sense!  Cooking and baking using recipes exposes children to measurement (teaspoon, tablespoons, cups, quarts, ounces, pounds, etc.) which help builds an understanding of ratios and fractions.  Cooking and baking with children also exposes them to scientific processes such as boiling, freezing/boiling points, dissolving and chemical interactions, such as that which occurs when making yogurt and bread.

Cooking and Baking Can Build Cultural Awareness/Geographical Awareness and Empathy! By taking the time to connect recipes with their country (using a map) of origin and discuss what life in that country is like for childdren their age, children are able to build on their knowledge of the world.  Opening the door to awareness of the world sets the stage for interest, empathy and related action.

Build Positive Attitudes Towards Books!  Reading aloud and discussing an enjoyable food-themed book and then enjoying food based on that book builds positive attitudes towards reading and creates cherished memories.

Build Positive Attitudes Towards Food and Healthy Eating!  Learning how to prepare food is an essential life skill and could forseeably cut down on a child’s future over-reliance on processed food, a noted health risk.  Cooking and baking with students allows for many fpositive ood and health related conversations to emerge during the time spent preparing dishes and dining together.  

Next week, I will be highlighting some food-themed books and cookbooks for children, with related literacy activities.  Let me know some of your favorite cooking or baking memories from your childhood!

360 Experiences that Build Empathy

NickHobogradKiribati.jpgImage by Nick Hobgood (

Hotseating, a reading comprehension strategy where students “step inside” a character has much in common with Virtual Reality where participants “step inside” a virtual world.  

Teachers can now take what was successful about hotseating (Wilhelm, 2002), along with current research on Immersive Virtual Experiences and design First Person 360 Experiences that engage students in learning while building empathy.  Much of the research has shown a positive impact related to societal or environmental issues when participants shifted perspectives and “became” a stigmatized or endangered person or entity

For example, in this 360 Experience: POV Oceans based on my updated Learning Framework and created using Thinglink, students are asked to take on the perspective of the ocean as they interact with carefully curated (please note that one of the videos contain an expletive) and sequenced information.  The lesson is designed to make students aware of the dangers that plastic water bottles pose to our oceans.  After students have interacted with the images and information, students are asked to write a letter, from the point of view of the ocean, to the people of Earth.  This letter is a formative assessment that will show how deeply the student has absorbed the threats that plastics pose to the ocean.

During the next phase of learning, students will be guided towards discussing, implementing and/or expanding upon some of the ideas that arose in the letters they wrote as the ocean.  Perhaps they could track changes in personal or community usage of water bottles or do a fundraiser to benefit ocean research by selling reusable water bottles?  Unleashing the possibilities of new technology through well-crafted lesson design allows students to gain information about important issues, filter information through a shifted perspective and then build on the learning to bring about change.  If the lesson is truly successful, it  allows for a virtual experience that leads into a real world journey of learning and empathy, followed by related action.

Based on my preference for not using Virtual Reality headgear in the classroom until more data can be gathered on potential dangers, I am now calling VR experiences using 360 photos without headgear “360 Experiences.”  I am interested in continuing to design these lessons using a shifted point of view, in keeping with the most recent Virtual Reality research in order to deepen learning and encourage empathy.  

Just as you are able to gain a fuller experience of place through virtual reality and/or 360 experiences which allows you to more fully “step into” a place (by an embodied experience or having to use your fingers for a “hands-on” experience), so, too, you are able to more fully “step in” and experience another person or entity when a lesson has been designed with sufficient information and stage-setting.  

It is exciting to ponder the intersection of research, technology, carefully crafted lessons and learning in the classroom that encourages students to be thoughtful about challenges in the real world.

What do you think?