Tuesday, December 08, 2015

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson

It had been years (and years and years) since I'd read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson. In fact, the last time I read it I think I was thirteen years old. Some friends of mine were performing in the local theater's production of the same title and I volunteered to operate the show curtains which was my first foray into the world of local theater. I figured I had best know what the story was about so I read the book. (I know that some people absolutely love theater productions but I can't say I'm terribly enthusiastic most of the time. That's due in large part to working behind the scenes every now and again on a production, but I digress.)

Getting back to the book, as I say I hadn't read it in years and wanted to revisit it before handing it over to my kids. If you are unfamiliar with the storyline, I'll let the Amazon description fill you in (because I'm feeling lazy):

The Herdmans are the worst kids in the history of the world. They lie, steal, smoke cigars, swear, and hit little kids. So no one is prepared when this outlaw family invades church one Sunday and decides to take over the annual Christmas pageant.

None of the Herdmans has ever heard the Christmas story before. Their interpretation of the tale -- the Wise Men are a bunch of dirty spies and Herod needs a good beating -- has a lot of people up in arms. But it will make this year's pageant the most unusual anyone has seen and, just possibly, the best one ever.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is an extremely short and fast read, coming in at roughly 80 pages. I previewed it for my kids in under an hour. As I read along I laughed and snickered and figured that my kids would get a pretty big kick out of the characters and the story. The first of the six chapters opens up with a pretty good description of the Herdman kids being an incredibly rowdy bunch. Truthfully I wouldn't care to have them over to our house because they are too much of too much. Lured to Sunday School by the false promise of marvelous desserts, they show up to church and hear the announcement for the upcoming Christmas pageant. Then and there they decide that, not only do they want to participate in the performance, they also want the lead roles and threaten and cajole their way into them. The church body is in an uproar but plans proceed with the Herdman clan portraying not only the Holy Family but also the wisemen, with the youngest daughter taking the role of "The Angel of the Lord". I can see how this situation would provoke distress among church members. The lovely message that is "preached" in this book by Robinson though is that the Gospel has the power to change even the most rebellious of hearts. As a result of their exposure to the Christmas story, the Herdmans find their hearts softened to truth. We are not told what their lives look like post-Christmas pageant but we do know that there is a tenderness visible in them that was not there previously.

As mentioned, I wanted to preview this story before handing it over to my oldest to read for himself and, in the end, I'm glad that I did. Although I love the story and the message behind it, I was a bit put off by a few things. Twice Robinson has the Herdman kids swear using the Lord's name in vain and that's not something I really want my kids reading at this moment in time. (Why? Because they are at a stage where their vocabulary is growing by leaps and bounds and, more importantly, God says not to use His name in vain.) Secondly, there is an incident during one of the practices where the subject of underwear comes up and certain children are threatening to tell their mother that underwear is being discussed in church. It's a rather humorous situation but the story about the underwear grows until the pastor declares that he heard that all the Herdman kids do during rehearsals is "talk about sex and underwear." It's one brief sentence and my son might have glazed past it but I really just don't feel like we need to start reading about sex at the age of 9. I thought about blacking out that sentence and just telling him that I didn't want him to read what it said just yet. But then I internally chuckled and thought about what a dumb exercise I've considered that to be when I've overheard other people doing the same. Blacked out words only serve to make me MORE curious. Besides, the idea isn't to keep him away from the subject forever (by no means!!!) but I do think that childhood is but a brief period of time and innocence preserved is a beautiful thing. He's under 10 years old, for crying out loud! Instead of blacking out anything, I left it alone but decided to make this a read aloud book and in this way I could just edit out the few things I don't want my 3, 4, 6 and 9 year old exposed to quite yet. All of them will be reading the non-blacked out version for themselves in a few years, so no worries. It'll come, but I don't see the need to rush it.

There was a sense of disappointment in not feeling able to hand this book over freely at the moment, but this feeling did not distract from our enjoyment of the story. I read it aloud to everyone and we all got a good chuckle out of the antics of the Herdmans and their questions and interpretations surrounding the Christmas story. We read the book in two sittings only because I forced them to. My kids would gladly have sat still for the entire book in one sitting had I the voice for it. Sometimes though it's better to linger, right?

I can see The Best Christmas Pageant Ever being an annual read for our family for the next several years. (It helps that it's so short! Makes it easy to squeeze in!) Overall it was fun, we all enjoyed it, and so I'd recommend it with those two notes of warning for the conservative reader.


Barbara H. said...

I have never read this. I saw a made-for-TV movie of it once and didn't care for it, but the book is almost always better. :-) Plus there is more time to develop things in a book. I would be concerned about the same issues in reading to children. It's realistic that kids not raised in church would say such things - we've had neighborhood kids that we've had to ask not to say certain words - but like you say, there is no need to introduce that to kids before necessary.

*carrie* said...

I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this. I almost bought a copy of the book recently for Nathan at the thrift store, but changed my mind. It's helpful to have this fresh review. I remember watching the movie multiple times growing up.

Shonya said...

We enjoyed reading this book aloud as well. It's impressive that you read it twice in one week! I do that only very, very rarely!

Anonymous said...

My kids and I have read this story for many Christmas Eves, and we got lots of snickers out of it, too. Takes roughly 1 hour to read out loud. We would take turns. The story is hilarious and moving. Nice tradition.

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