In 1972, I was a sophomore in high school and had not decided to
be an elementary school teacher quite yet. I found out during my
first year of teaching sixth grade that a woman named Barbara
Robinson had written quite an amusing and sentimental book
called, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” that same year.
She chose Judith Gwyn Brown to illustrate this story with some
hilarious pen and ink drawings to show you the crazy characters in
the Herdman family. They compare to the Griswold family, Chevy
Chase’s cinematic, fictional family in “National Lampoons’ Christmas
When I started teaching in 1978, I subbed for a fourth grade teacher
who had left the book on the desk. She gave me the best “advice”
which I carried out in each of my classes, throughout all the middle
school teaching years. She instructed me to have the children enter
the classroom from recess, while the lights were turned off, have them
sit with their heads down and listen to a chapter or as she suggested,
“whatever fits into a ten to fifteen minutes’ time period.”
I read somewhere in the middle of the above mentioned book, where
she had left her bookmark. It was a wacky chapter and the kids were
chuckling. They were well-behaved and when instructed the student
closest to the lights turned them on. light As the lesson book plans
‘said to do’ I had them get their Language Arts books out to go over a
section which ended with an open book quiz on Poetry.
With the world being the way it is and most schools forbidden to
include religion or any kind of church activity, this may not “fly”
with the curriculum or the administration. But, I did choose to
read “The Yearling” from September, 1979 until December 1st
and switched to this 80 page long book. I could trust to read this
and finish it in three to four weeks. It has a church Sunday School
production of the Christmas story included in the plot. I am not sure
if it would be allowed, being possibly censored for a few reasons.
I would “argue” or “debate” saying that we read “Tom Sawyer” and
“Huck Finn” both having some questionable content but “allowed”
as “freedom to express oneself in literature and the arts.” Sometimes
language and colloquialisms are “accepted” within the context of the
times and places the stories are depicting.
This book about a church pageant is revealing a small town and its
simple country living story. I would say it is a “page out of Americana.”
The times would be around the fifties, I believe. Some of the descriptions
reminded me of my sixties era childhood, also. When church is part of
the plot, it is meaningful but not necessarily “preaching” about church,
attending church, the Bible nor the need for religion in your life. It is an
enchanting story that held my students over the years I taught middle
school, ‘under a spell.’ The classroom was always quiet except for the
sincere laughs and chuckles brought about this girl’s worldview and
her descriptions of that “awful” Herdman family!
I would say this book is not so much about Jesus’ birth but the way the
story transforms a rowdy set of kids…
It would be controversial in so many ways, the kids in the Herdman
family are cigar smoking, swearing and cussing, acting mean and
fighting amongst themselves and their classmates.
Let me quote the book,
“The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the
world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and hit
little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord
in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old broken-down toolhouse.”
(That is a fine example of a “run on sentence” that caught the ears
and imagination of my classrooms, sometimes with as old as sixth
graders listening to the words!)
Here are the positive outcomes in this book:
1. Everyone participates in the pageant. The Herdmans create their
own unique additions and use their creative license to enhance the
plot of the story.
2. The Wise Men were supposed to leave the stage but either forgot
or chose to stay, the author says, “It made perfect sense for the Wise
Men to sit down and rest.”
3. The Mother Mary (who had a black eye, not due to abuse, by the
way, but an accident) “burped” Baby Jesus.
4. Instead of giving perfumed oil as a gift, one Wise Man brought a
5. By the time the children and audience get to the last verse of the
song, “Silent Night,” Imogene was crying. Here is how the author
captures the essence or transformation of Imogene:
“In the candlelight her face was all shiny with tears and she didn’t
even bother to wipe them away. She just sat there- awful old Imogene,
in her crookedy veil crying and crying and crying.”
6. (The author’s) Mother was the director and Father snuffed out the
last candle after the church gymnasium/auditorium is emptied.
“I guess that’s everything. All over now. It was quite a pageant.”
7. The director, Mother, and her assistant, Father were given the ham
to take home as a Christmas gift. That was a generous and polite way
to thank them for allowing them to be in the play!
8. The Herdman family would not take the candy nor the little Bibles
given to the “actors” who performed in the pageant. Imogene wanted
only the Bible story picture of Mother Mary. The author describes the
way Imogene visualized Mary as,
“All pink and white and pure-looking.”
9. The author’s sentimental feelings about Imogene were that “Mary
would always look like Imogene” (in her mind.) Further explanation,
“Sort of nervous and bewildered, but ready to clobber anyone who had
laid a hand on her baby.”
10. In the storyteller’s mind,
“The Wise Men are always going to be Leroy and his brothers bearing
The conclusion is very sweetly written, as they leave the church it is
Christmas Eve, “the night is cold and clear, with crunchy snow and
bright, bright stars.”
“And I thought about the Angel of the Lord– Gladys with her skinny
legs and her dirty sneakers sticking out from under her robe, yelling
at all of us, everywhere, ‘Hey! Unto you a child is born!'”
The author was born in my home state, in the city of Portsmouth, Ohio.
She lived in the 70’s in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. She received her BA at
Allegheny College. She is a wife and mother of two daughters, Carolyn
and Marjorie. Possibly a grandmother by now.
This book I have reviewed was made into an ABC television film in 1983.
I have not checked this out, even while I taught; I did not realize this!
Barbara Robinson has written several books with humor injected into
her plots! Here is an example:
“My Brother Louis Measures Worms and Other Louis Stories.”
Recently, someone who reads my blog asked me to review more children’s
books. I have less now in my home, due to spreading them around and
sharing with my family. I wrote this post, thinking that it would give someone
a chance to go to a bookstore, library or locate this at a Half Price Books…
and share this story, no matter what your faith is… it includes a change in
perspectives. This young girl (the author) sees a rowdy, wild bunch of
“hooligans” in the beginning of the book, thinking they will ruin the
The transformation transcends faith.