by Barbara Robinson
80 pp., 7 chapters
Ages: 8 +
Interests: Christmas, Christmas pageant, putting on a play, religion, church
Also by this author: sequels featuring the Herdmans – The Best School Year Ever, The Best Hallowe’en Ever
The Sunday School Christmas Pageant is usually pretty predictable and dull, but this year the notorious Herdman kids have elbowed their way into the leading roles, and nobody knows what to expect. From stealing change out of the collection plate to smoking cigars in the washroom (and that’s just the girls), there’s nothing the Herdmans aren’t capable of. What nobody expects is that they will somehow make the Christmas story more meaningful for everyone.
The six Herdman kids are definitely from the wrong side of the tracks, and are feared by all. They steal, lie, cheat, blackmail, and generally terrorize all the children in town, and when they take over the church play there is a general uproar from all the ‘decent’ folks in the congregation. However the Herdmans’ strange unfamiliarity with the Christmas story, and their sincere attempts to make their own sense of it make everyone else see it with new eyes too. From Wise Men with a ham instead of frankincense and myrrh, to a dishevelled Mary thumping the baby doll Jesus on the back to burp him, to angel Gladys hollering “Hey! Unto you a child is born!”, the pageant is both unusual and unforgettable.
A very short chapter book, good for beginning readers, or for reading aloud. The criminality of the Herdmans is related in great detail – burning down a tool shed, stealing from the store, slandering classmates, and fighting anyone who gives them a hard time. Their lawlessness, as well as the priggishness of their opponents, is probably best appreciated by kids old enough to fully understand how far their actions depart from the usual Christmas pageant humdrum. Older kids would also better understand the attitudes and sanctimoniousness of some of the adults. I would read this book to about an 8-year-old.
Heartwarming and a little crazy, but not too broad. (The story is set in a simpler place and time, when just exclaiming “My God!” in a church was scandalous.) For anyone who has grown a little weary of the oft-repeated story of the Nativity – child or adult – this book is a very funny breath of fresh air.