Literature: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Hey! Unto you a child is born!

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (also published as The Worst Kids in the World) is a 1971 children's book by Barbara Robinson.

The Herdmans — Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie, and Gladys — are the worst kids in the history of the world. They lie, they steal, they smoke cigars, and they live in an old garage where they bang the door up and down trying to squish each other with an evil attack cat and a mother who works double shifts just to escape them. So what happens when these horrors find their way to church in search of refreshments? Why, they take over the Christmas pageant, of course! And somehow, it turns out to be the best Christmas pageant ever.

There are two sequels: The Best School Year Ever and The Best Halloween Ever.


  • Bile Fascination: In-universe. Everyone goes to the pageant just to see what awful thing the Herdmans are going to do.
  • Blatant Lies: Charlie's claim that the minister gives out copious amounts of junk food to the Sunday school kids. Also, the Herdmans are quite good at these themselves.
  • Cats Are Mean: The Herdmans' cat certainly is. It's been theorized that they actually caught themselves a bobcat, then made it wilder.
  • Disappeared Dad: Mr. Herdman jumped on a train and left town two years after Gladys was born. Noone can blame him.
  • Enforced Method Acting: "And the shepherds trembled, sore afraid — of Gladys, mainly, but it looked good anyway."
  • Fat Camp: Imogene convinces poor Albert that he'll be going to fat camp instead of Disneyland over the summer.
  • Fridge Logic / Fridge Brilliance: In-universe, Beth (the narrator) experiences a lot of this when the Herdmans help her to see the Christmas story in a whole new light.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: The Herdmans all smoke cigars (even the girls).
  • It's the Best Whatever, Ever!: The entire point of the book.
  • Hidden Depths: the Herdmans
  • Missing Mom: Well, you might as well call Mrs. Herdman that. She's rarely around, except ostensibly to walk the cat around the block on a chain.
  • Moral Guardians: Mrs. Wendleken, who doesn't even want cats to have kittens or birds to lay eggs.
  • No Name Given: We don't actually find out until the sequel that the narrator's name is Beth.
  • Mustache Vandalism: At one point, the Herdmans are shown drawing mustaches on illustrations of Jesus.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: Subverted. It does exist; the local social worker just refuses to deal with the Herdmans anymore except to drive by their house and make sure they haven't burned it down or blown it up. Lampshaded by Gladys, who demands to know where Child Welfare was when Mary and Joseph were consigned to a barn to have their baby.
  • Three-Month-Old Newborn: One of the kids originally offered to play the baby Jesus was four years old. His mother said he could scrunch up.