Sunday, December 23, 2012

Book Review: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (1972)

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a book I always intended to read as a kid, but then never did. Like some of the characters in the story, I was intimidated by the bad behavior of the Herdmans. Me, read a book about kids who smoke cigars? I didn’t think I could do it. What I missed as a middle grade reader is that this book is the perfect embodiment of the true meaning of Christmas.

When the pageant director falls ill, the narrator’s mother steps in to take over. The Herdmans, who have typically been left out of Sunday school activities in the past, decide they want in on the pageant this year, and they sign up for all the major parts in the production, without even really knowing the story of Jesus’s birth. Though most people are horrified by the involvement of these badly behaved kids in an important religious event, the Herdmans surprise everyone by being so willing to engage with the Christmas story and its various significant figures.

I think kids and adults alike are equally guilty when it comes to passing judgment on others. My disapproval for the Herdmans kept me from even reading the book as a goody two shoes kid, and the main character and her friends worry about what will happen to their pageant if kids like the Herdmans get involved. What this story does for us is slowly peel away the layers of our disgust and concern and show us the good at the heart of the Herdman kids, and the way their sincere and honest way of interacting with the world actually makes them better suited to playing out the Christmas story than almost anyone else.

Like the Horrible Harry books, this story shows us the “bad” kids through the eyes of a “good” kid, but though the story focuses on the actions of the Herdmans, it’s the “good” narrator who is changed and enlightened by the story itself. Barbara Robinson’s writing style makes this type of storytelling look easy, and I was amazed by how easily and willingly I was carried along by the events of the story. The ending, where they finally perform the pageant all the way through from beginning to end, has some of the funniest and most poignant moments of any children’s novel. The Herdmans don’t know much about Christmas, but we all learn something from their learning process.

Though The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is now 40 years old, it still holds up really well, and it’s the perfect book to make a part of your family’s Christmas traditions.

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