Since this is the beginning of the week of Christmas, I wanted to review a book that would be fun to read to your children, or grandchildren this week. Hint: it’s a fun book for the adults as well.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson, copyrighted in 1972, takes a hilarious look at a family of six children, being raised by a single mom, who are running wild and terrorizing the school and town.
Everyone in town tries their best to avoid the Herdman children: Ralph, Imogene, Ollie, Claude, Leroy and Gladys, because interactions with them result in pain, embarrassment, or torture. But when the mother of the narrator of the book, gets stuck directing the Christmas Pageant for the first time, and the Herdmans, who have never heard the Christmas story, take over, the reader is in for a treat.
The Herdman children come to church, looking for desserts they were led to believe were being distributed during Sunday School. It just happens to be the day the announcement was made for the beginning of the Christmas Pageant rehearsals.
Due to intimidation from the Herdmans, no one volunteers for their original roles and Imogene takes the part of Mary, Ralph the part of Joseph and the other children fill in as Wisemen and The Angel of the Lord.
With the narrator’s mother leading the play, you get a good inside look at everything as it unfolds at the rehearsals. Imogene is appalled when there is no room at the Inn for Jesus to be born. Ralph wants to know why Mary didn’t tell them about Jesus since she knew. Imogene wants to know why Joseph didn’t speak up. When they find out about swaddling clothes and the manger, they want to know why child welfare wasn’t called on Mary and Joseph, for tying Jesus up and putting him in a feedbox.
They were annoyed at the gifts the Wisemen brought to Jesus, because to them, they were useless. They declared that you can get better gifts from the firemen each year at Christmas.
When they heard about Herod, they wanted to beat him up. They decide to find out more about Herod, so Imogene asks for help to get a library card so they can read up on Jesus and Herod.
The mothers of the church become enraged at the stories told by their children about all that the Herdmans are changing, as they put their own spin on the Christmas story characters, and an uproar is started against Mother.
The preacher puts an end to the clamor when he reminds everyone, “when Jesus said ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me’ Jesus meant all the little children, including the Herdmans.” (p. 42) Throughout the turmoil, Mother keeps declaring to everyone that this will be the best Christmas pageant ever.
The night of the pageant arrives. Mary and Joseph come in late and very bedraggled. The Wisemen bring a gift of their Christmas basket ham to baby Jesus instead of the usual gifts. The Angel of the Lord shouts her announcement to the shepherds, “Hey! Unto you a child is born!” (p.90)
At the end of the play, the harsh, hateful, Imogene begins to cry uncontrollably as she finally comprehends the true message of Christmas.
I have given away deep parts of the book as I have written this review, but I do it for a great cause. This book is all about the redemption Jesus gives us all when we seek Him and find Him. It is important to know what you are reading to your children and how you can use books like this to look deeper at the Christmas story. It is also a great help to those dealing with difficult people this season, to— maybe— see things from a different point of view.
This week, I hope you will find the book, at your library, or Amazon, or from a friend who has a copy, and read it for yourself or with children you know. You may end up crying like Imogene by the end, as you realize all that God has done for you this Christmas.
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13 ESV