Interview with author of this month's focus book, 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever'

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Barbara Robinson's idea for a "family Christmas story" is 36 years old this year, but it returns year after year as one of the holiday's best-loved tales.

Barbara Robinson
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Hear a longer version of PG book editor Bob Hoover's interview with Barbara Robinson:

On the book's transformation into other media

The basis for the book's characters

The book's success overseas

Other countries where the book has been published, plus the author's childhood

"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" made its first appearance as a short story in McCall's magazine in 1970, said Mrs. Robinson.

The funny story of how the unruly Herdman kids caught the season spirit from their school's Christmas play led to a popular book (published by Harper Trophy, recommended for ages 8-12) two years later, then an equally popular play and versions for TV and the movies.

Mrs. Robinson is the writer of all of them.

"Yeah, I sort of lucked into a great thing," she admitted in a phone chat last week from her home in Berwyn, Pa., near Philadelphia. "My ace in the hole as a writer are the characters in these books."

The author grew up in Ohio, but attended Allegheny College in Meadville, graduating in 1948. She then lived for several years in Sewickley, where she worked at the borough library and began to explore a career in writing.

Her current project is turning "The Best School Year Ever," a sequel to her Christmas book, into a play.

Mrs. Robinson also answered these questions for the MYGEN Book Club:

Q: Is "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" a hit in other countries?

A: This book has been published in many other countries, including Germany. Every year on the day before Christmas, a German actor reads this book over the radio and everybody stays home and has cocoa and cookies. I was stunned.

"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" is by Barbara Robinson, who attended Allegheny College and lived for a time in Sewickley.
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Q: Is your book based on real characters from your life?

A: No. I never knew a whole family, but my mother taught school and I suspect she had some Herdman types. That's one great plus of that book. Everybody knows them, has had them in school or lives around them. They are recognizable types. I have no clue in the world where the name came from.

Q: Did you take part in a Christmas pageant when you were a little girl?

A: I suspect I did, but I was a homely kid. I wore glasses at a time when kids didn't. I suspect I was somebody in the back row as an angel, choir or something.

Q: What is your next book?

A: I'm going to take the Herdmans to summer camp. Even though there are always other things or books that you want to do, kids come up to me and ask to have more about these characters. That's a very motivating thing.

Post-Gazette book editor Bob Hoover can be reached at or 412-263-1634.


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