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The Herdmans #1

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

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Laughs abound in this bestselling Christmas classic by Barbara Robinson! The Best Christmas Pageant Ever follows the outrageous shenanigans of the Herdman siblings, or “the worst kids in the history of the world.” The siblings take over the annual Christmas pageant in a hilarious yet heartwarming tale involving the Three Wise Men, a ham, scared shepherds, and six rowdy kids.

Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie, and Gladys Herdman are an awful bunch. They set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s toolshed, blackmailed Wanda Pierce to get her charm bracelet, and smacked Alice Wendelken across the head. And that’s just the start! When the Herdmans show up at church for the free snacks and suddenly take over the Christmas pageant, the other kids are shocked. It’s obvious that they’re up to no good. But Christmas magic is all around and the Herdmans, who have never heard the Christmas story before, start to reimagine it in their own way.

This year’s pageant is definitely like no other, but maybe that’s exactly what makes it so special.

128 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published January 1, 1972

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About the author

Barbara Robinson

62 books142 followers
I grew up in a southern Ohio river town -- Portsmouth -- and that small town atmosphere has affected most of my writing.
My mother, widowed when I was three years old, taught school for forty-nine years in that same small town, and her major (indeed, only) extravagance was books. I grew up with, and quickly adopted, the notion that reading was the only way to fill up every scrap of loose time you could snatch.

I had the benefit, as well, of a wide variety of aunts and uncles and cousins, plus the extended family so common to small town life -- the neighbors, friends, teachers, bus drivers, mailmen, local heroes and local neâer-do-wells, and even a local blacksmith...great stuff to feed the imagination.

I began writing very early -- poems, plays, stories -- and just never quit. I attended local schools and then, being both book-struck and stage-struck, found a college -- Allegheny College -- where I could satisfy both passions.

I've been a short story writer, with some forty-fifty stories in McCall's, Ladies' Home Journal, Redbook, etc.; a playwright; an occasional poet, and finally and most happily, an author of children's books...happily, because there's no greater audience than boys and girls who read books and demand that those books be the most exciting, the most mysterious, the most touching, the funniest...the Best.

I live and write in a suburb of Philadelphia, and I have two daughters -- Carolyn, who is a nurse, and Marjorie, who is a sixth grade teacher and at home now with my grandchildren Tomas and Marcos, and all these people read books like crazy!

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5 stars
25,782 (48%)
4 stars
16,008 (30%)
3 stars
7,899 (14%)
2 stars
1,971 (3%)
1 star
1,063 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,809 reviews
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 29 books5,627 followers
December 10, 2022
Have now read this aloud to my kids two years in a row. One year I hope to be able to make it through the end without sobbing.

2012 reread: It's just not Christmas until you've cried over this book!

2013 reread: Managed to hold it together until the very last paragraph. My kids think I'm nuts for bawling at the end of every Christmas story I read them. One day I hope they'll be crying with me!

2014: Ugh. So much crying at the end! Made it through most of it, though.

2015: Blubbered my way through the end.

2017: Cheated the open sobbing by having the two oldest take turns reading the ending in the car on the way to a family dinner. We had to sit in the parking lot for five minutes to finish (per the kids' request). I was able to bawl silently in the dark. I really felt like the 13yo and 9yo GOT it this year.

2018: Made it to the last page. Will never be able to finish that dry-eyed. Handed it to the 14yo.

2019: Last three pages read by the 15yo. Also had the 11yo do a bit of the reading, because she really wanted to!

2020: Pulled it out to read the finish last night, my now 12yo daughter said, Do I need to read the last page for you? Yes, the last three pages, actually!

2021: Read this to my children on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, and you know what? Still the best. Funny, poignant, sob-inducing.

2022: Barely made it into the last chapter. Daughter had to read the ending.
Profile Image for Luffy.
867 reviews718 followers
August 11, 2020
After some problems with one Christmas book (which I had to delete), I found myself under the spell of this book. It amply deserves all the praise it got and is getting.

Going in, I didn't have many expectations and the first chapter seemed tepid. But then that direction the story took enhanced its quality. For a feelgood book, it was never sentimental. It was realistic, wise, funny even.

I didn't get any cheap vibes coming from the ending. Those villainous little children didn't seem to change for the better. But the Christmas pageant, was truly a miracle that was rooted in realism. I think the author caught lightning in a bottle. I fully recommend it.
Profile Image for Nicole.
438 reviews13.4k followers
December 18, 2022
Aż szkoda, że nie jest bardziej rozbudowana!
Profile Image for Calista.
3,870 reviews31.2k followers
May 31, 2020
This charming story is timeless. Reading this, I realize that I red this as a child and it brought it all back to me. The story is easy to read in one setting.

Growing up in the church and seeing some of these pageants, this story is so funny for me. The church puts on the exact same Christmas pageant each year. At school, there is a poor family who are very mean, they are the school bullies and they disrupt everything. The story is told from the point of view of a child of the pageant director, but we don't really know them. One Sunday, a boy says the best thing about Sunday School is there are no Herdmans, the juvenile delinquent family. Well, they show up and take over the play, being the only ones who want roles in the pageant.

They don't know the stories and have to learn it all. Through their questions, it makes the other kids learn and think about the story in different ways. It is an amusing story. The end is a bit cheesy, but it works and I remember loving this story as a kid. All that chaos they brought to the pageant was funny and it makes for a good story. This story is as old as me, how wild is that.

I'm glad I found this again. I think there is a bad movie of this too, somewhere.
Profile Image for Matt.
3,718 reviews12.8k followers
December 15, 2022
A wonderful story from my youth that I added to my annual reading list (and hope to get my son hooked soon)!

The Herdmans are a collection of six hellion children. When they hear about free and plentiful refreshments are being offered at Sunday School, they decide to attend one week. That happens to be the same week that Christmas Pageant rehearsals are announced. Enter the entire Herdman clan, who decide that they want in. Soon thereafter, they find themselves with all the staring roles and take it upon themselves to interpret the story in their own Herdman way.

What a classic and I am so pleased to have found this and relived some of my favourite childhood memories from my youth.

Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:
Profile Image for Kim.
301 reviews82 followers
December 20, 2022
The best Christmas story EVER

I re-read this book every year. This story, told through the eyes of the rough and tough Herdman children is beautiful. It is magical to watch them change as they learn about the birth of Jesus
Profile Image for Darla.
3,338 reviews523 followers
December 22, 2020
Oh! This book makes me smile. The value of this little volume is inversely related to its size. You can read this in bed on Christmas Eve and still be well rested for Christmas Day. The Herdmans are infamous around town and then they show up at church and decide to star in the Christmas pageant. Our narrator's mother is directing the pageant and we get to view the entire event from this perspective. There are some good laughs, some tears, and a reminder of the reason for the season. Highly recommended as a family read aloud.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,816 followers
December 31, 2020
A very cute and very fun book for the holiday season!

If you are used to the usual run-of-the-mill nativity presentation at your local religious institution and want a fresh take that is a bit out of the ordinary, it is worth giving The Best Christmas Pageant Ever a try! When a church goes to put on the same old nativity, some local ragamuffins are interested in participating (mainly due to the promise of snacks). Over the course of the story, these seemingly uncouth kids help those who have been taking the Christmas Story for granted open their eyes to the true meaning of Christmas.

I read this one out loud with my kids and we had a great time with it. The dialogue was fun and I loved hearing my wife and kids snicker after reading off a humorous line. So, not only was the book great, but it was a fantastic family read along experience. A great way to celebrate the holidays!

Profile Image for Christy.
3,808 reviews32.3k followers
November 19, 2022
4 stars

This was a delightful and heartwarming holiday book. I can see myself re-reading it in the future!
Audio book source: Hoopla
Story Rating: 4 stars
Narrators: CJ Critt
Narration Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Children’s Christmas
Length: 1h 52n
Profile Image for Manybooks.
3,121 reviews104 followers
October 6, 2020
I have loved Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever for decades (ever since our grade four homeroom teacher read it aloud to us as a pre Christmas treat in grade four, in 1976). And ever since 1976, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a yearly prior to Christmas reading ritual for me, and ever year, I seem to love and appreciate both the story and its messages and lessons a bit more. Now of course first and foremost, there is much laugh out loud humour encountered in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. For while the Herdman children might be little hellions, most if not all of their pranks are pretty well hilarious, and indeed, when Imogene Herdman bops Alice Wendleken on the head and claims she has cooties, I for one always do have to laugh uproariously, as honestly, if there is one person whom I absolutely cannot stand, whom I absolutely hate in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever it is outwardly, externally prim and proper but internally oh so nasty and bigoted Alice Wendleken (and of course also her mother who is just as bad if not even worse and has made her daughter equally judgmental and annoying). However, aside from the at times overly exaggerated hilarity of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (and the delightfulness of just how extremely naughty Imogene Herdman and her siblings can be), there is also much that I for one find thought provoking and even at times potentially saddening (such as for example the Herdmans rightfully upon having heard the Christmas story for the first time, being simply aghast that Mary and Joseph could not find adequate shelter, that Mary had to basically give birth in a barn and that as soon as Jesus was born, he was already in danger of being murdered by Herod). And indeed, as someone who has always (and since early childhood) majorly despised the above mentioned holier than thous with every fibre of my being, I do appreciate so so so much how Barbara Robinson with The Best Christmas Pageant Ever totally casts into the garbage pile of rejection and condemnation those who might claim they are Christian, who might on the outside act all comme il faut but who on the inside are like the narrator's "friend" Alice Wendleken, nasty, opinionated, and in fact acting very much akin and alike to the Pharisees whom Jesus Christ himself condemned so vociferously (as while the Herdman children might look ragged, while they might be poor, with bad manners and a penchant for mischief, with regard to the Christmas story, with regard to the real meaning of Christmas, they have it spot on, not only with regard to their questions regarding why Jesus Christ ended up being born in a stable, but also, if one considers how the Herdmans take the Christmas ham they have received as a charity gift as an offering for Leroy, Claude and Ollie as the Three Wise Men, as the Magi, to bring along, that is a much more heavy and meaningful personal sacrifice than any gold, frankincense and myrrh could ever be, especially since at the end of the Christmas pageant the Herdmans also refuse to take the ham back home with them, that they leave the ham they had received as charity, as a necessary food item, as a donation, as a gift to and for the church).
Profile Image for Nancy Kelley.
Author 11 books113 followers
December 5, 2013
"Hey! Unto you a child is born!"

That's what Christmas is about, but it's so easy for longtime Christians to forget. We know the story of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, and we've memorized songs about angels and Wise Men. Somewhere along the line, it's easy for it to become rote knowledge, rather than something deep and profound that touches your heart.

But what would happen if you watched a whole family learn this glorious mystery? A family not filled with churchy people--in fact, filled with kids that make churchy people turn and run.

I loved how vividly the Herdmans were painted, both before they took over the pageant and after. You knew them well enough to know why this was a disaster in the making, which just made the transition that much more powerful.

This book had me laughing out loud on every page up till the last twenty or so. Then I was so touched by how the Herdmans were swept away by the story of Jesus--while still remaining Herdmans at the core--that I was nearly moved to tears.
Profile Image for JohnnyBear.
169 reviews12 followers
March 13, 2022
8 out of 10

Nice, a short little story about Christmas themes. My mother read this to me and my siblings when I was little, and although I'm not going to say that I remember a lot of the things in this book, I will say that I remember being really compelled by this as a kid and that I would recommend reading or getting this book for children. Fond memories!
Profile Image for Kathryn in FL.
716 reviews
January 4, 2020
My parents were leaders in an evangelical church when I was growing up, thus, as children, we were participants in church theatrics. I do not recall the various positions I held or those of my siblings but that isn't really important to this review.

The crux is when you get amateurs of various ages and talents together to put on a production anything is possible. One thing you can expect is the unexpected. Most likely its outcome, however is that key components of the story will not be reflected accurately. This is the focus of this hysterical story plot. People forget their lines, they make unlikely substitutions that can or will be very inappropriate and thus the audience is bound to react despite their battle not to at least giggle.

This was published in the 1970's and my mother read it aloud one evening while we were preparing for Christmas. I remember actually having a minor asthma attack because I laughed so hard I couldn't catch my breath. Tears of laughter were also on the scene of our home as we recalled various plays that didn't go as planned. My mother purchased a number of additional copies which became gifts for family and friends.

This is priceless humor. It isn't naughty (least not in anything you wouldn't hear in a radio ad - then again considering Dr. Schwartz's ads, this is considerably more appropriate for all ages, even little ears).

If you get a chance, look for a copy of "I was a bird watcher in church". This is a play that we also put on that had many people laughing and even crying as they connected to the story.
Profile Image for ♏ Gina Baratono☽.
731 reviews119 followers
May 9, 2019
A friend of mine who is a librarian insisted I listen to this book and I am so glad she did! It's a delightful tale about a large family of children, who, shall we say have behavioral issues? When they decide they want to be in the annual Christmas pageant, everyone is rightly concerned about their conduct, not to mention their language (which is decidedly not appropriate in a Church setting!) and their personal hygiene.

Although it is well known as a children's story, I can see why so many adults read this every single year.
Profile Image for Vintage.
2,389 reviews443 followers
December 30, 2019
I love Christmas, but that doesn't mean I like the fact that the Hallmark Mystery Channel betrays me every year and goes non-stop Christmas goo from freacking October into January. October through January is the Christmas season? TNT, you failed me too this year. Bring me back The Closer.

Anyhoo, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a wonderfully acerbic yet still tear-jerking Christmas story. Perfect to put a sneer of joy on the Scrooge in your life.

The Herdman children are "those" kids that pretty much every school has. They steal, smoke, drink and cuss, and that's just the kindergarteners. Just kidding, kind of. They manage to finagle themselves into the Christmas pageant then bring the real meaning of what being born in a manger is really like to everyone. Yes, you will laugh over their bad kid antics then cry as they realize the story they are telling.

Read many years ago.
Profile Image for Obsidian.
2,732 reviews938 followers
December 16, 2016
I laughed throughout this hilarious story of the Herdmans consisting of Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie, and Gladys. My first thought is that I can see why the kids are terrible if their parents named them that.

This is honestly a short and sweet story about a clan of terrible kids who have their whole neighborhood and community in terror of what they are going to do next. I did laugh at one line that said that the Herdmans were the worst kids in the history of the world, they lied, stole, and played with matches.

Yes, apparently playing with matches is equal to all of that.

The story takes a surprisingly sweet turn to the ending. The illustrations by Laura Cornell were great and really brought the Herdmans to life.

I read this for The (Mostly) Dead Writers Society 2016 Genre Fiction challenge. And with this final book/review I completed my challenge for the year!
Profile Image for George Ilsley.
Author 12 books226 followers
December 11, 2022
An unruly pack of siblings, the Herdmans terrorize the school, back in the day when bullying, neglected children, and vandalism were simply hilarious. The girls smoke cigars in the bathroom!—what could be funnier than that?

This seasonal classic was previously unknown to me. The illustrations in this edition are grim and murky, like something out of Dickens. It does manage to be amusing, in that it is appropriately over the top and makes fun of everybody, even the minister's wife and the local busybody. The pageant promises to be a spectacular disaster, but somehow, even in a children's book aimed at the Christmas market, contrives to provide some guidance on the true meaning of the season. What a plot twist that turned out to be!

There. Now my seasonal activities are all taken care of. Time to hibernate until a chorus of songbirds wake me in the spring.
Profile Image for Melissa McShane.
Author 60 books744 followers
December 28, 2022
The six Herdman children are a nightmare--undisciplined, vicious, ignorant, and the bane of every adult's existence. When a chance lie brings them to church in late November for the first time ever, everyone thinks they'll get bored of it. But late November is when the church Christmas pageant starts, and soon the Herdmans have blackmailed or bullied everyone to the point that when the pageant organizer asks for volunteers for Mary, Joseph, the three Wise Men, and the Angel of the Lord, no one speaks up but the Herdmans. It's going to be the worst Christmas pageant ever...maybe.

This short, hilarious book never fails too make me cry at the end even as I spend most of the book laughing. I love the way in which the unnamed narrator comes to see the oh-so-familiar Christmas story in a new light. I work with children in my church and while we (thankfully) have never done a Christmas pageant, I can appreciate how hard it is--and how much harder it would be if you had six hellions in the key roles, none of whom know anything about Jesus beyond taking His name in vain. I imagine the Herdmans went home after the pageant, back to their old lives of fighting and swearing and smoking and blackmailing their peers, but I like to think they went home a little changed, too. Not much, because that would be unbelievable, and the beauty of this story is that everything that happens feels real. But enough that they can remember that time when somebody believed they could be more than everyone else thought they were.

Re-read 12/21/20: Someday I might make it through the whole book without crying, but I hope not.
Profile Image for Anita.
1,760 reviews37 followers
December 20, 2022
I just read this for the 50th time. There is not another book, not counting picture books like Caps for Sale, that I have read more often. Not even Jane Eyre or Rebecca top out at more than five. When I read it when I taught junior high, I wouldn't let the kids read certain sections, I wanted to read it to them, six times a day, and looked forward to it every time. I still read this every Christmas to check in on the Herdmans to get into the Christmas spirit. Even after all this time I still chuckle. The scenes in school are priceless, cooties and a show-and-tell gone horribly wrong, warm the heart/frighten any teacher.
The plot is simple. A well-meaning mom gets put in charge of the Christmas pageant when a family of troublemaking kids become part of it. If you've ever had the pleasure of putting on a pageant you know this could really happen. I once had to stop fights with a group of three-year old angels whose stars had become entangled during the performance, so I know it happens.
If I haven't convinced you to spend the hour reading this yet, consider this: You will think about the Nativity differently. You will look at it with fresh eyes and remember that real people were involved in an event that we too often think of as a tableau instead of real life. You will, like me, always think of Mary and Joseph scared and unsure, an angel shouting the good news at the shepherds, and Leroy and his brothers bearing ham.
Profile Image for Tom Quinn.
545 reviews147 followers
December 8, 2021
When Jesus said that bit about "suffer the little children" this may not have been what he had in mind...

(Yeah, yeah, "suffer" in ye olden times meant "allow" or "tolerate" - just let me have the dang joke, OK?)

Mother said, “And here’s the Herdman family. We’re glad to see you all,” which was probably the biggest lie ever said right out loud in the church. (38)

Our straight-shootin' no-nonsense but nameless narrator tells it like it is, as only an eight-year-old can. Out of the mouths of babes, and all that. (Whoa, a Bible quote twofer? 'Tis the season!)

4 stars - rollicking good fun, which by the way Wikipedia claims is "a modern day retelling of the medieval Second Shepherds' Play," and don't that just beat all.
Profile Image for Brandy.
360 reviews40 followers
April 4, 2020
Loved this book! And in high school, I was Imogene Herdman in the school play.❤️
Profile Image for Margie.
405 reviews1 follower
January 4, 2022
Indeed "hilarious and heartwarming," this book is another one of my Christmas favorites! It brings a smile to my face just thinking about it. The opening paragraph is unforgettable: "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." That doesn't sound like much of a Christmas story, does it, but just keep reading! In many ways the humor reminds me of the wonderful movie "A Christmas Story" (Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB gun) which I have to watch every Christmas. The nostalgia of each is so appealing to me. It's time to put my favorites in a stack and curl up in bed all day reading them - if only!
Profile Image for Krista the Krazy Kataloguer.
3,873 reviews266 followers
April 26, 2017
This is a gem of a story, with a tearjerker ending (well, it was for me).
It's a classic story of a family of children who don't fit in because they are so different, and how they grow to fit in as their classmates begin to know and understand them. I love it--great to read any time, not just around Christmas!
Profile Image for Selene.
595 reviews134 followers
September 23, 2019
Second Read: November 24, 2017 - November 30, 2017
I read this with my grade 6 class. They voted on the next book and this won. They enjoyed it.

First Read:
When I was in elementary school I had a teacher read this to my class. I remember this being hilarious and something I looked forward to having read to me.
Profile Image for Ruth.
Author 15 books185 followers
December 20, 2022
2022 reread. This book never gets old! Definitely more fun to read aloud to the Podlings than to myself by the fire, but still. A classic gem.
Profile Image for April.
2,101 reviews950 followers
December 22, 2011
Read this in fifth grade, what a silly wonderful fantastic holiday read.

UPDATED 12/21/2011

So I re-read this.

“The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world.”

pg. 1

Nothing says Christmas like a bunch of asshole kids taking over the Nativity play. Friends, The Herdmans are children I can get behind. They are bad kids and OWN IT. Totally my type of children. As you well know, I pretty much give in to all of my urges and this holiday season I had that urge to re-read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson.

Read the rest of my review here
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