Book review: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

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The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
by Barbara Robinson
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Series: The Herdman’s #1
Release date: January 1, 1972
Rating: Full review of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

I don’t remember the first time that I read this book.  It is highly likely that my mother read it to me before I would have been able to read it to myself.  We had a cassette tape (I swear to God I am old.  In my defense the cassette and the player were both older than me) of it in with the Christmas music that was brought out every year with the decorations.  The story describes the circumstances through which the family of “bad” kids somehow stars in a church Christmas pageant.   This book was written in 1972 but I think it is more realistic to see it as set it in the late 1950’s.  It also in a very Midwest small town.  None of the characters are physically described at all expect for the Herdmens having “stringy hair” and “black and blue” places. 

One thing that I found particularly interesting was that fact that the narrator has no name. Or much of an identity at all.  She (and it is only implicitly stated that she is a girl because she gets a break when the boys sing) calls herself a “sort of medium kid”.  I wonder if this was a deliberate choice?  If it was I certainly found it effective because it is almost a way of introducing a 3rd person narration with a child’s perspective. 

I kind of love the Herdmans.  Imogene especially. I love how fierce and protective she gets about the baby Jesus.   They seem to be the only interesting people in a town that is probably painfully boring. I love how bad that they are.  Well, bad to the level that little kids can understand. Reading this again, I had so much sympathy for the teacher whose class Ollie accidentally on purpose sets an attack cat lose in.

The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world.

This book is funny but it is the kind of funny that is almost an in joke.  You have to be familiar with the kind of town and upbringing being described or much of it will go over your head and the book will be much less enjoyable.  It reminds me of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby books in that way.  But there are also parts that are just laugh out loud hilarious.  The entirely of the dress rehearsal in particular.  Just thinking about it is making me snicker.

There is religion in this book.  It is a church Christmas pageant after all. But I feel as if the religion in the book is actually pretty authentic.  The narrator has some fairly interesting revelations about the difference between what she has always imagined as the Christmas Story and what it was actually more probably like.  She also reaffirms parts of her faith that she has taken for granted.   I wouldn’t read this in the classroom but I would read it with children growing up in Christian or secular households.  The religion aspect isn’t hardline or judgmental but in the books world there are no people of other faiths.  Inclusive, this book is not.

I reread this book every year.  I enjoy the writing, I like the sense of humor, and it gets me in the mood for Christmas every time.

From Goodreads:

The Herdman kids lie, and steal, and smoke cigars (even the girls). They also talk dirty, cuss their teachers, and take the name of the Lord in vain. The last place anyone expects to see them is in a church. 

So no one is prepared when the Herdmans storm Sunday school and take over the annual Christmas pageant. Before anyone can stop them, they're plotting revenge on Herod, frightening the angels, and burping the baby Jesus. They've got the whole town up in arms. 

How the Herdmans turn a series of disasters into what everyone agrees is the best Christmas pageant ever, is a hilarious, touching, and unforgettable tale from a beloved storyteller.

What are your favorite holiday books?

Book Review: The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily by Rachel Cohn, David Levithan

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The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily (Dash & Lily #2) by Rachel Cohn, David Levithan cover

The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily
by Rachel Cohn, David Levithan
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Series: Dash and Lily  #2
Release date: October 18th 2016
Rating: Second book slump
Times read: 1

A sequel to Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares! First of all this book was SUPER sweet. Almost, dare I say it, too sweet.  It is like the different between a cupcake and a cup of sugar.  One is sweet but has nuance and the other is just sweet.  This book ends up on the cup of sugar side of things

There were some very funny parts to this book. What I think held it back was the fact that there isn’t really a new adventure.  It is a rehash of the old adventure.  It is possible that the head cannon that I had for what happens after the end of the first book is too strong and now anything that isn’t that head cannon displeases me. This is a legitimate thing to have happen to you.

Lily needed to grow in this book.  Unfortunately, what happened is that her character was changed fundamentally from the first book and then she spends the whole book becoming the girl she had been.  I get that she has had a difficult year and has been depressed but her POV is very negative.  I would have liked her development to be more authentic feeling. Also, communicate godammit.  Come on Lily, you never shut up.  How is it possible that you aren’t telling people how you feel?  

Sometimes you make plans. Sometimes plans make themselves.

I found Lily’s rigidity interesting.  She is a bundle of contradictions.  She is a free-spirited sprite but she also cannot handle change.  At all.  To the point where I wanted her parents to get her some counseling because it was unhealthy.  I do think that she was able to become more flexible by the end of the story.  

I far preferred Dash in this book.  I like me some crabby teenage boy who really love books.  I wish there had been more closure with his parents.  But I like how into her family and especially her Great Aunt he becomes.  His real family has let him down and now he is choosing his own family.  It bodes well for their future.

I wish Dash and Lily had been together more.  They are hardly together in the first book and again in the second book they are hardly together. Come on!  Give me what I want!  They have been dating for a year it isn’t as they shouldn’t be spending time together.  Stop with the separate adventuring!

There is a pretty heavy undertone to this book.  Which would be fine.  However, the funny parts of this book are pretty farcical so the tones don’t really match.  Like, I don’t know, pumpkin spice on a pork chop.  You can do it but holy crap do you ever have to know what you are doing. 

The writing here is still strong.  Levithan in particular has a wonderful way with words.  It just didn’t seem as fresh. I guess that I am just missing the whimsy and warmth of the first book. So, while not my favorite still a good book to get you in the spirit (if you have read Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares because reading a sequel first is soul destroying).

From Goodreads:

Dash and Lily have had a tough year since they first fell in love among the shelves of their favorite bookstore. Lily’s beloved grandfather suffered a heart attack, and his difficult road to recovery has taken a major toll on her typically sunny disposition.

With only twelve days left until Christmas—Lily’s favorite time of the year—Dash, Lily’s brother Langston, and their closest friends must take Manhattan by storm to help Lily recapture the unique holiday magic of a glittering, snow-covered New York City in December.

Book Review: Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

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Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares
 by Rachel Cohn and  David Levithan
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Series: There is a second book OMG
Release date: October 26th 2010
Rating: le cute
 Times read: 3

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by by Rachel Cohn and  David Levithan is the story of Dash and Lily as they fall in love by exchanging a red notebook back and forth.  I have read this in December for the last three years and I think that I am going to continue with that tradition.  Chapter alternate between being told from Dash and Lily’s perspective.  Each character was written by one of the authors which gives them voice very distant voices and personalities.  Sometimes their voices clashed.  You could tell that two different people were writing this book and it worked perfectly. 

Dash is crabby, too smart for his own good, and I love him. He needs a hug from Lily. I love Lily’s zest for life.  I love that she is quirky and living her life her own way. Lily struggles to make friends with kids her own age.   

“Sorry to be so cynical, but this is New York”

I love how New York centered this story is.  I love it when a book really explores it’s setting.  Where you are in the world makes a huge difference to how you experience the world.  This would have been a much different story if it had been set in Berlin, Jakarta, or Lima.  Or even just in suburbia.  This book is a love letter to New York at Christmas. 

“I feel like you may be a special and kind person. And I would like to make it my business to know special and kind people. Especially if they are boys my age.”

It is amazing how hard I ship these two even though they are NEVER together.  Their completely opposite worldviews cause both sparks and personal growth in one another.  This makes me think that they will bring out great things in one another as a couple.  There is a whole discussion about the idea of someone vs. the reality of someone that I absolutely loved.  I am a sucker that sort of thing. 

“I gotta go. The gingerbread men are on fire.”

I love their different feelings about Christmas.  I think that in some ways most of North America is either a Lily or a Dash.  I am definitely a Lily.  I LOVE me some Christmas.  Maybe it is because I only go “home” for Christmas every four years but it is definitely my favorite holiday. It may also have to do with the fact that I live abroad and so do not have any expectations or stress (aside from travel) associated with it.  One thing that I liked was how their feelings about Christmas sort of met in the middle.  Lily’s enthusiasm for the glitter shine of the holiday is tamped down and Dash starts to accept that Christmas might not be the worst thing ever.

I noticed that the plot was sometimes laggy.  I think that the authors were sending the book back and forth between them and making things up as they went rather than having the novel plotted out.  I like it because it helps the book feel spontaneous and disliked it because it leads to some of the more over the top moments of the book.

This is a sweet, funny, Christmassy tale. Read bay the tree while drinking hot coco. You know you want to.

PS: There is a sequel!

From Goodreads:

“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written a love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.