The story begins by introducing the Herdmans - a large family of children well known as local hoodlums. Whenever a fire starts or a kid has a black eye, the town can be pretty sure one or more of the Herdman children are to blame.
When it's time for the local church to put on their Christmas pageant - an event that hasn't changed one iota for who knows how long, the woman who usually directs the show is unable to because of an illness. So Mother (the mother of the child "writing" the story) takes over the job. The trouble is, somebody told the Herdman kids Sunday school involves refreshments; they'd never been to church before, but suddenly they come every week, drinking up all the communion juice and taking money from the offering plate. And when all the children gather together to learn what parts they will play, only the Herdmans volunteer for the main parts. (All the other kids are too afraid of getting punched by a Herdman to dare compete for a role.)
And so it is that every character from Mary and Joseph to the Wise Men and the Angel end up being played by the rough and tumble Herdmans. The Herdmans, however, have never heard the Christmas story - and when they learn it, things both hysterical and tender begin happening. Yes, the Herdman playing Mary smokes cigars in the ladies' room, and yes, the fire department is called, but the Christmas pageant ends up being the best ever produced at the church, with the Wise Men bringing the Christ child an unusual (if precious) gift, Mary crying quietly at the wonder of Jesus, and the Angel fiercely telling everyone, "Hey! Unto you a child is born!"
What I Like: Nearly everything! This story had me and my children laughing hysterically and the kids kept saying, "Just one more chapter, Mommy! Please?" I didn't mind because the story is tight, well written, and easy to read out loud. And did I mention funny? But The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is more than just laughs. The author's insights about the church community (not always as open as they should be to the "wrong" kind of people) and the profound meaning of Christmas are beautiful. And, chances are, you and your kids will spend the next month randomly crying out: "Hey! Unto you a child is born!"
What I Dislike: These aren't necessarily dislikes, but things I think parents should be aware of. One of the Herman children says "My God!" three times - each time in reference to something shocking that happened in the biblical Christmas story. The first time, the author mentions that "swearing in church" is not something to be approved. (The last time "My God!" is used, you can't help but laugh. The Herdmans have just heard the angel say Jesus' will be called "Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace," and one Herdman says, "He'd never get out of the first grade if he had to write all that!")
Parents should also be aware this book is very honest. For example, when the Pastor asked Mother if the pageant is going to work out okay, she defensively tells him she thinks the pageant will be the best ever. Her daughter (who is supposedly writing the book) calls it the biggest lie Mother has ever told.
Overall Rating: Excellent.
Publishing Info: HarperCollins; ISBN: 978-0064402750; paperback, 128 pgs., $5.99.
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Special Info: This book is also available as a picture book, a play script, and is available as a movie version on DVD.