The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Barbara Robinson. 1972. HarperCollins. 128 pages. [Source: Bought]
First sentence: The Herdmans were 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 Shoemaker's old broken-down toolhouse. The toolhouse burned right down to the ground, and I think that surprised the Herdmans. They set fire to things all the time, but that was the first time they managed to burn down a whole building. I guess it was an accident. I don't suppose they woke up that morning and said to one another, "Let's go burn down Fred Shoemaker's toolhouse"...but maybe they did. After all, it was a Saturday, and not much going on.
Premise/plot: What happens to a small-town church pageant when the WORST kids in the world 'take over' and take all the leading roles in the nativity? Perhaps readers hearts--along with the Herdmans'--will grow three sizes. (There are six Herdmans in all: Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie, and Gladys.)
My thoughts: This one is written in the first person. I don't know that we ever learn her name in the book. Usually that is the kind of thing that drives me CRAZY. Every character needs to have a name. But it doesn't bother me horribly in this one. Perhaps because it keeps the focus on where it belongs--the Herdmans as they discover the true meaning of Christmas for themselves.
The writing is WONDERFUL. It is funny--dare I say hilarious? Yet it's not without substance and heart. The text perhaps has the ability to reveal the self-righteous hypocrite lurking inside the heart of every professing believer OR every "professing" believer.
For whom did Jesus die? Who needs saving? Who is the gospel message for? Is it up to us to judge who is worthy--or unworthy--of hearing the gospel? Is the gospel unable to save the worst offenders, the biggest sinners?
The book itself is NOT preachy. Not in a didactic way. The book is not in any way promoting praying a little prayer, coming up an aisle, signing a pledge card, getting baptized.
The Sunday-school-and-church-attending children of a community are taking part in the annual Christmas pageant. During the pageant itself Scripture is read aloud. Also during the rehearsals, the pageant director reads the full nativity story aloud. Some questions are asked; some are answered. Some questions seem so out-of-the-box that there are no quick and easy answers.
There is a genuineness to this one. The Herdmans have never been "churched." They have not been exposed to any bible stories or songs. They have not heard Scripture read aloud before. They have not read the Bible for themselves. Their questions are not coming from a place of sneering or hostility. They are curious. They want to know. And this knowing brings with it feelings and reactions. Feelings and reactions that seem almost FOREIGN to the churched.
The book truly captures the getting-it moment, the moment when one realizes the true meaning of Christmas.
© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers