100 Chapter Books Project: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

I’m not sure if I had heard of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson before the list, even though it would have probably been in the library when I was a kid, having come out in 1972. It’s a very short book, more of a novella really at 80 pages (side question: are there such things as kid novellas or are they just short books?). I started reading my library copy but I had also grabbed the audiobook on my phone just in case I had time to get to it while I was out and about. I read a bit one night and then, the next morning, turned on the audiobook while I was prepping some crockpot stew. I was thrilled when I figured out it was read by Elaine Stritch, she of the wonderfully sarcastic and gravelly voice. I ended up listening to the rest on audio instead of going back to the book.

What it’s about: It’s time for the annual church Christmas pageant and instead of being the same old production, the neighborhood toughs, the Herdmans, decide to get involved, even though they’ve never even heard the story of Christ’s birth. What happens is surprising and the Herdmans aren’t the only ones to learn something during pageant prep.

Age level: Grades 3-5

Best part: The Herdmans are a crazy bunch and though I too would be afraid of Imogene’s mocking taunts or Gladys’ pounding fists, I loved their unique perspective on a well-known story and their growth (however slight) through the book. I also adored Elaine Stritch on the audiobook (as I might have mentioned already).

Worst part: Only that the story seems a bit dated as the traditional Christmas pageant seems to be an event mostly of the past. Okay — also the fact that the elementary school age Herdman kids all smoke cigars. I have no idea why that seemed plausible in the 70s. Did kids really smoke cigars then, even the bad ones?

Verdict: Buy/Borrow

I gave this a buy/borrow simply because of the religious theme of the story. Some kids and parents will find it amusing and others will not be able to relate or won’t be interested. But regardless of religious persuasion, I think that all readers could enjoy this story at least once for its humor and originality.

Have you read this book? Was it ever a Christmas tradition for you to read it at school or home?

Next up is an old book, Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, which I have admittedly only heard of through the movie You’ve Got Mail. I’m excited to read it though!


Schedule – December through February

note: dates are not necessarily set in stone – posts may go up a day or two before or after

December 15 – #78 Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (1936)

December 31 – Winter Break!

January 15 – #57 The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (1962)

January 31 – #98 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (2000)

February 15 – #2 A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)

February 28 – #11 When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (2009)


14 thoughts on “100 Chapter Books Project: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

  1. I am so *aware* of this story but have never actually read it or seen any adaptation of it. I really should read it at some point. Sounds like it would be right up my Christmas/nostalgia alley, and a quick read is sometimes a really good thing.

    Ballet Shoes always reminds me of the film You’ve Got Mail as Meg Ryan’s character references those books in the film.

  2. Is it cigars they smoke? I thought cigarettes?

    I love this book! We never had Christmas pageants when I was small (that I can remember), but I read this book over and over again as a kid. Our copy fell apart around fifth grade, I read it so often!

  3. I love this book! It was one my sisters and I read in elementary school. I bought it for my niece a couple years ago and enjoyed rereading it. I also (vaguely) remember seeing the 1980’s made-for-TV movie adaptation. And, like you, the first time I ever heard of “Ballet Shoes” was in the movie “You’ve Got Mail.”

  4. This has been one of my favorite kid’s books for years. Back in the 60s/70s I read this book to my fifth-grade classes every December and then, as my children came along, I read it to them. You’ve inspired me to go find my book and read it again.

    P.S. My childhood always included a real Christmas Pageant.

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