Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
illustrated by Laura Cornell
Book review by Monica Friedman
The Worst Kids in the World Learn the Meaning of Christmas in a Classic Story
Everyone in town knows the Herdmans are,
absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemakers’s old broken-down toolhouse.
Nobody expects much else from them, though, now with their father gone who knows where and their mother working double shifts, not necessarily because she needs the money, but, as far as anyone else can tell, so she doesn’t have to spend any time with her rowdy kids. So all the other kids in town suffer silently through the physical and verbal assaults, the blackmail, the extortion, and the destruction of property, doing their very best to hang out under the Herdmans’ radar.
If they don’t notice you, they can’t hurt you.
And people go along like that, expecting only the worst from the Herdmans, until the day that the narrator’s brother, trying to shrug off the constant theft of his best snacks, brags that, “I get all the dessert I want in Sunday school,” prompting the heathen crew to descend upon the church en masse, in search of sweets.
As it turns out, the narrator’s mom has had the mantle of Christmas Pageant director thrust upon her, and when the Herdmans learn about this new opportunity to threaten other kids, they claim all the best roles for themselves. None of the other students, even those who really want to perform, even bother to audition, because, “Gladys Herdman hits too hard.”
Some of the people in town figure Christmas is already ruined, but Mother, determined to make this “the best Christmas pageant ever” rolls with the punches. As it turns out, the Herdmans have never even heard a single world of the Christmas story, and while no one expects them to listen, or understand, or care, somehow a ragtag bunch of unsupervised delinquents manage to take notice.
Maybe its their sudden interest in library research and their righteous outrage over the unfairly non-violent death of Herod, or their thoughts on appropriate gifts for the new baby Jesus, but somehow, their fresh and innocent take on the story allows the rest of the town to see Christmas, and the Herdmans, in a new light. Far from destroying the church, the pageant, or the sentiment, their honest reactions—Mary’s fierce protection of the baby Jesus, and her open-faced awe at the power of the pageant, or the exuberant Angel of the Lord’s joyous proclamation, “Hey! Unto you a child is born!”—transform a story everyone’s heard a million times before into something special, something real and immediate.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a timeless sort of classic, a relevant story that still reads beautifully four decades after its original publication. Children and adults will find themselves caught up in the drama and reach the last page of the story still wanting more.
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