The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
The Herdmans are just about the worst kids ever. They’re mean and nasty and dirty and they smoke and curse. The one place that is safe from their influence is the church. They have nothing to do with the church. But Charlie opens up his big mouth and tells a few fibs about all the treats they get at church and sure enough the Herdmans show up. Just in time for the Christmas pageant. Through threats, intimidations and pure eagerness, they secure all of the main roles, with the rest of the children left to watch. But as it turns out, the Christmas story is entirely new to them, from Mary being turned away at the inn, to King Herod in all his infamy to the Wise Men who bring strange gifts.
In the end, the town ends up seeing the story of Christmas through the Herdmans’ eyes and what could have been a disaster just might be the best pageant they’ve ever had.
Although slightly dated (see the yuck section below), I think this will still amuse and entertain many young readers. It is likely on a third grade reading level and is appropriate for that age group. Those who are slightly younger may enjoy it as a read aloud. It will have far more resonance with children who have a strong familiarity with the story of the birth of Christ, as knowing the Church interpretation is part of what makes the Herdmans’ take on the issues more entertaining and revealing.
Just yuck: There’s a lot of harassment of fat kids. There’s a comment that a girl tugging on her pierced ears makes you shudder “like looking at the pictures in National Geographic of the natives with their ears stretched all the way to their shoulders”.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – One girl’s mother objects to her hearing about people being pregnant. There are “dirty books” in the library. One boy’s father hangs out in his underwear. The kids are accused of talking about sex (they’re not).
Profanity – Bad kids talked dirty and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain. “hell”, in the biblical sense. Bibles are scribbled upon – this is blasphemous right? “My God”,
Death, Violence and Gore – Bad kids hit little children. There is a vicious cat who eats someone’s pet mice. There’s a mention of South American fish that can strip your bones clean. A woman broke her leg. A boy ends up black and blue because of the kid he sits next to. Gladys hits people hard. Someone shoved a pussy willow so far down someone’s ear until it sprouted. Many children are threatened with violence. A girl is pinched. Some kids get bows and arrows or dart guns as gifts. In the bible, people want to kill Jesus. There’s a mention that Herod should be burned alive. It’s suggested that Herod should be hanged. Herod killed many people. Herod killed his own wife. There’s some speculation about what would have happened if Jesus had been murdered. Mother said she’d ignore any violence except blood.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – Bad kids smoked cigars, sometimes in church.
Frightening or Intense Things – A toolhouse burns down, as kids light things on fire. A girl considers stealing a baby.