Is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever the best Christmas book ever? It might just be. I know I prefer it to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. One reason why I do is because the book truly captures the getting-it moment, the moment when one realizes the true meaning of Christmas. A Christmas Carol may do an adequate job of "getting" the generosity of Christmas, but it is a Christ-less Christmas story. There is nothing in A Christmas Carol that would point you towards the real meaning of Christmas: the birth of a Savior. The Best Christmas Pageant does just that. And it doesn't sacrifice entertainment or humor. In fact, it is probably one of the funniest children's books ever. Here's how it opens:
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. The toolhouse burned right down to the ground, and I think that surprised the Herdmans. They set fire to things all the time, but that was the first time they managed to burn down a whole building. I guess it was an accident. I don't suppose they woke up that morning and said to one another, "Let's go burn down Fred Shoemaker's toolhouse"...but maybe they did. After all, it was a Saturday, and not much going on.There are six Herdmans in all: Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie, and Gladys. The premise of this one is oh-so-simple: what if the yearly Christmas pageant was overrun with Herdmans? What if the WORST kids in town, possibly the WORST kids in the world, got the best roles in the Christmas pageant? What would it be like for the director(s)? What would it be like for the other kids? What would it be like for the audience? What no one was expecting was that the story itself would have an impact on the actors leading it to be THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER.
It is narrated in the first person. I believe it is told from the perspective of the director's daughter. As I mentioned, it is hilarious and touching all at the same time. Though the 'touching' bit--the sentimental bit--is towards the very, very end.
I loved this one. I've read it again and again and again and again. It is well worth reading every year or every other year. It has a just-right feel about it. I think it is true enough to life. It captures the familiarity of the Christmas story. Almost everyone knows the story backwards and forwards. Everyone knows it so very well that none of the characters consider it. They don't process it or absorb it. But the Herdmans. Well. They have NEVER heard it. They don't find it boring or irrelevant. They find it absorbing and interesting. The details, big and small, are fresh to them. They are thinking of the story in a fresh way, in a human way. Not in a been-raised-in-church-my-whole-life way. So it captures the DRAMA of the Christmas story in a fresh way. Readers get a behind-the-scenes look at someone seeing/hearing the story for the very first time. The Herdmans take nothing for granted, assume nothing. They have questions, dozens and dozens of questions. The book isn't overly preachy either. It isn't that someone reads the story the first time, and all six kids suddenly decide to pray a little prayer and get baptized. It is not like that at all. Yet I can't help but seeing the spirit working in this story.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews