The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (The Herdmans #1)The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

The Herdmans are the worst kids in the history of the world. They lie, steal, smoke cigars, swear, and hit little kids. So no one is prepared when this outlaw family invades church one Sunday and decides to take over the annual Christmas pageant.

None of the Herdmans has ever heard the Christmas story before. Their interpretation of the tale — the Wise Men are a bunch of dirty spies and Herod needs a good beating — has a lot of people up in arms. But it will make this year’s pageant the most unusual anyone has seen and, just possibly, the best one ever.

My Review

It was a tradition to read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever almost every year when I was growing up. I have great memories of my older sister and my mom reading it to me. I remember my mom tearing up as she read the last chapter. But it had been probably close to 20 years since I had read the book (or had it read to me). Then pulling out boxes of Christmas decor this year I saw that bright red cover with Gladys Herdman as the Angel on it. All the good memories and feelings came flooding back and I just knew I had to read it to my 9 year old and almost 8 year old.

I wondered as we began if it would keep their interest. It is over 40 years old now. But age didn’t matter in this case. My girls were engaged from the start. They experienced all the shock and laughter that I remember experiencing as I read about the escapades of those naughty Herdmans. I was impressed by the genius of the writing that present characters, setting, and plot that could take place in the 70’s when it was written just as easily as it could take place today. The only aspect that dated the book at all was that the Herdmans read books at the library instead of looking online to learn about King Herod. 🙂

Teaching 3rd grade this year has given me the chance to interact with a lot of kids besides my own children, and it was amazing how “real” the characters and dialogue are. Every child character in the book reminded me of a student in my class (including the Herdmans).

I guess that’s why the tears flowed freely for me this year through that last chapter. The Herdmans weren’t just characters. They each had faces for me this year, faces of students that I see every day, students who just like the Herdmans suffer hunger and neglect but do the best they can with what they have and know. Reading of the change that occurred for the Herdmans gives me hope that real children in the world can have experiences that change them for the better if we all do our part to teach and reach out to them.

I also appreciated the reminder of the “Truth” of the Christmas Story. The Herdmans give a poignant picture; they make it easy to see that a true portrayal of the Holy Family would be of poor and weary travelers, likely disheveled and slightly anxious. Circumstances couldn’t have been less ideal for having a new baby. A Stable for heaven’s sake! And yet with the Christ child’s arrival the “imperfections” became meaningful and even perfect. The birth of our Savior made that stable sacred and all who visited treated it so. Just a reenactment of the Savior’s birth brought sanctity to the unruly Herdmans. And so it is with our lives. When Jesus Christ is allowed in he turns us from stables to temples. Even the hardest of hearts can be touched, even Imogene Herdman’s, and through hers – ours.

Such powerful messages to be packed into a short and sweet 80 pages. And they are powerful because they are not preached. Instead the author presents ideas, observations, and situations with plenty of detail and reality, but also with openness that allows us to visualize and make our own judgment.

Truly a classic. Merry Christmas! and “Hey! Unto you a child is born!”

Age Recommendation: 8 and older would understand the content best. While the genre is children’s literature I highly recommend this one to adults too.

Appropriateness: There are a few swear words (from the Herdmans), some mention of underwear and the word sex appears. None of it is inappropriate for the purpose and audience.  It is in fact vital to the telling of this funny and engaging story.

Book Club Discussion: Besides the Christmas theme and the fresh look at the Christmas Story, this book also provides a platform to discuss troubled children and families, how we can help them, and how we should and shouldn’t judge others.

Other Book Recommendations: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Skinnybones by Barbara Park, The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson, Stepping on the Cracks by Mary Downing Hahn, and Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff.

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Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great

Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty GreatUnicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first-grader brought this one home from the school library. We all laughed and read it every night that we had it. Beyond the humor is also a great message about recognizing the great things about yourself and others that make you unique and awesome in your own way.

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The Book with No Pictures

The Book with No PicturesThe Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My third-grader LOVED this book. She read it multiple times a day while we had it from the library. She wanted us to read it to her every day too. She just couldn’t wait to hear her parents say silly things. Definitely a clever one and it made us all laugh the first half a dozen times or so. After that the kids still loved it. If “a hippo named boo boo butt” makes you laugh then you better read The Book with No Pictures to your kids.

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The Little Prince

This is one of my all time favorite books…Ok I’m going to take the leap and say it IS MY #1ALL TIME FAVORITE BOOK.  So to review it sufficiently will require a little of my personal history, biographical info about the author, and some interpretation and analysis. It will be just like high school English class all over again! (Get Excited! Get Get Excited! I say G-E-T..Sorry little high school flashback there.) But the book is just that great!

(Side note – I highly recommend the original English translation. The newer translations just lose some of the beauty and poetry of the language.)

It’s not easy to give athe_little_prince summary of The Little Prince. It’s one thing to tell what happens and another to explain what it is about. I can summarize the happenings by the end of this paragraph. It will take pages to attempt to express what it means to me. The story is told by a pilot who crashes in the Sahara desert, cut off from all civilization. As he is trying to fix his plane he hears a little voice request, “Draw me a sheep.” That is how he meets the golden-haired “Little Prince” who came to Earth with a flock of birds from his small planet. Over time the pilot learns of the other planets the Little Prince visited and more of the Prince’s own precious planet, and of the vain little flower that prompted him to leave it. In the process the pilot is reminded of what is essential for happiness.

Growing up I had a fascination with all things French and this book is just so FRENCH. My dad lived in France and Switzerland for 2 ½ years as a missionary so he spoke French fluently and introduced us to French foods and culture. He read to us Asterix and Obelix, Petit Nicolas, and of course The Little Prince. As a 9 year old I thought the grownups and their quirks were funny, and I found it refreshing to finally have someone give us kids a little credit for knowing important things too, to have someone finally understand how “tiresome [it is] for children to be always and forever explaining things to [the grownups].”  

planetThe idea of the Little Prince on his quaint little planet, barely bigger than a house, with volcanos to clean out (both the active and extinct since “one never knows…”) was as magical to me as any fairy tale. I fell in love the Little Prince, with his independent spirit and his desire to have friends and to care for them. I felt sad for him, being betrayed by his flower and having to leave her, then to have to leave the fox, and finally the pilot, but I respected his selflessness. I worried about those pesky Baobab roots, and I wanted to hold and hug the Little Prince to keep him away from the bite of the golden snake. But then I believed he made it back to his star so it was a happy ending after all.

The next time I read the book was for French class so I read it in it’s original French and I loved it even more, probably because the syntax in French is so much more poetic and beautiful but also because I was older and was able to pick out the deeper meaning. Also I learned more about the author in class and knowing his story definitely gives the book more impact.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery was a pilot and loved it. He flew in war and in times of peace and received many awards and recognitions for it. He wrote the The Little Prince while in New York trying to convince the US to join WWII; the dedication in the book makes a lot of sense when you realize he was worried about his friends in France who were suffering the deprivations of war. When I found out Saint-Exupery actually crashed in the Sahara desert during a flight it gave me a new perspective on The Little Prince; he truly knew what being stranded in the desert heat without water or help in sight was like, and yet he chose to write about it with the wit, tenderness, and innocence of a child’s perspective rather than the drama, suspense, and worry of an adult. I like his outlook on life. The most interesting fact of all about the author is that he mysteriously disappeared over the Mediterranean, much like The Little Prince’s body disappearing from the desert sand.  If you want to know more about Antoine de Saint-Exupery go here.

I have now read The Little Prince in French and English countless times and each time I am filled with a range of emotions; I laugh, I cry, I ponder. The book is often categorized as a fable or parable because the funny and tender anecdotes actually reveal the foibles and follies of humanity, as well as our strengths and purpose for living. Jesus Christ in the New Testament counseled to become as a little child, and this book advises the same. Keep the hope and faith that allows children to be fascinated by the world and to find joy in the smallest things, like shapes in the clouds or the comfort of a loved toy. Keep the ability to love, forgive, and befriend that comes to children so naturally. Spend time on the things that matter; look outside yourself, be brave and seek to understand and experience all the beauties this world has to offer, work hard to contribute to world around you, and develop relationships built on trust and sacrifice.THe Little Prince

It is so much more fun and so much more powerful to learn these truths as you follow the Little Prince’s journey, so if you haven’t read it before, do. Do it now! You will make a lifelong friend and “You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars [the Little Prince] shall be living. In one of them [he] shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You – only you – will have stars that can laugh.”

(You can find more of my favorite quotes from the book below.)

Age Recommendation: It is written as a children’s book with whimsical illustration so children will enjoy it. Probably 8 and older. But the true meaning of the story is for adults. The book dedication reminds us that “All grownups were once children though few of them remember it.” So I would say this book is for children and for the grownups who remember.

Appropriateness and Themes: Nothing to worry about here; the book content is clean and innocent as can be, but provides so much discussion material. This is a fantastic choice for book club, family read aloud, literature classes, and just for fun. Here is a list of discussion questions:

  1. What makes a career/hobby/pastime valuable? to yourself? to others?
  2. What does it mean to “tame” someone/something? Who/what has tamed you? Who/what have you tamed? How did you do it?
  3. What are the essential things that are invisible to the eye?
  4. How do adults lose the ability to see the elephant in the boa constrictor or the sheep in the box?
  5. baobabWhat baobab roots do you deal with in your life? What do you do on a daily basis to pull them up before they become a huge tree and take over?
  6. What experiences in your life have been as rewarding as the drink from the desert well for the pilot and The Little Prince?
  7. What reminders to you have in your life like the singing of the well and the stars serve as a reminder for the pilot?
  8. The Little Prince says, “Only the children know what they are looking for. They waste their time over a rag doll and it becomes very important to them; And if anybody takes it away from them they cry.” “They are lucky,” the switchman said. What do children teach us about connecting to people and things? What are they looking for that the adults lose sight of? What distracts the grownups from looking out the window as the train/life goes by? How do we get that knowledge and skill back?

Favorite Quotes

“I am looking for friends. What does that mean — tame?” “It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.”  “To establish ties?”“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….”

 

“People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said. “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.”

 

“When a mystery is too overpowering, one dare not disobey.” 

 

“People where you live,” the little prince said, “grow five thousand roses in one garden… yet they don’t find what they’re looking for…” “They don’t find it,” I answered. “And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose, or a little water…” Of course,” I answered. And the little prince added, “But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.”

 

“It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.”

 

“I do not much like to take the tone of a moralist. But the danger of the baobabs is so little understood, and such considerable risks would be run by anyone who might get lost on an asteroid, that for once I am breaking through my reserve. “Children,” I say plainly, “watch out for the baobabs!”

 

On our earth we are obviously much too small to clean out our volcanoes. That is why they bring no end of trouble upon us.”

 

I must endure the presence of two or three caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.” 

 

I myself own a flower…which I water everyday. I own three volcanoes, which I clean out every week…It is of some use to my volcanoes, and it is of some use to my flower, that I own them. But you are of no use to the stars.”

 

“Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me…”

 

“It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, then you are indeed a man of true wisdom.”

 

“Why are you drinking? demanded the little prince. “So that I may forget,” replied the tippler. “Forget what?” inquired the little prince, who was already sorry for him. “Forget that I am ashamed,” the tippler confessed, hanging his head. “Ashamed of what?” insisted the little prince, who wanted to help him.“Ashamed of drinking!”

 

That man [the lamplighter] would be scorned by all the others…Nevertheless he is the only one of them all who does not seem to me ridiculous. Perhaps that is because he is thinking of something else besides himself.”

 

“The proof that the little prince existed is that he was charming, that he laughed, and that he was looking for a sheep. If anybody wants a sheep, that is a proof that he exists.” 

 

One never know where to find [the men]. The wind blows them away. They have not roots, and that makes their life very difficult.” – said by a flower

 

“What makes the desert beautiful,’ said the little prince, ‘is that somewhere it hides a well…”