HarperCollins, 1997. 978-0064402750
Synopsis: The Herdmans have a reputation as being no good: they smoke, they swear, they steal, they light things on fire, and they’re violent to boot. But when they show up at church looking for refreshments and find Jesus stories instead, they want to find out what the big deal is. Now the whole town is up in arms because the Herdmans have claimed the starring roles in the Christmas Pageant, and yet, no one wants to miss out on what could be one of the most disastrous moments ever in all the years of putting on the Christmas Story.
Why I picked it up: I remember reading it once upon a time, and I found my old copy on the bookshelf so I wanted to re-read it. It’s a Christmas classic, after all.
Why I finished it: It’s not a long book, but you are getting a lot out of it. Robinson sets the stage in the first chapter with the narrator recounting what could be seen as a ‘best of’ list of the things the Herdmans have done to establish themselves as bad, disruptive kids. Then Robinson gives the reader a picture of what the Christmas pageant has looked like and what is potentially at stake for the narrator’s mother when takes over for the injured coordinator and she is forced to give the main parts to the meanest kids in town. The humor comes largely from the witty observations of the Herdmans as they have the Christmas story explained to them and of the natural reactions of frustration on behalf of the school kids who don’t necessarily want to be with the Herdmans but don’t want to miss the impending disaster. By the end of the book, we see a definite change in both the Herdmans and the rest of the pageant participants that for me, really hits on what Christmas is all about, similar to that moment in A Charlie Brown Christmas where Linus recites the Biblical passage about the angel appearing to the shepherds. The way we understand the story of Christ’s birth may be different, but the message of hope is universal.
Other related materials: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (movie); The Best School Year Ever by Barbara Robinson; The Best Halloween Ever by Barbara Robinson; My Brother Louis Measures Worms: And Other Louis Short Stories by Barbara Robinson; The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg; The Christmas Chronicles compiled by Jeff Guinn; A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd; 101 Ways to Keep the Spirit of Santa Alive: For “Kids” from 1 to 92 by John Hagerman, Monica Frischkorn, and R.M. Hanson; The Last Holiday Concert by Andrew Clements; If You’re Missing Baby Jesus: A True Story that Embraces the Spirit of Christmas by Jean Gietzen