I've been collecting children's Christmas books for seventeen years, since my oldest child was a baby, adding a few more to the collection each year, but without a doubt this is the best one I have. I first read it when my oldest was six and I've re-read it every Christmas since, and not only have I never gotten tired of it, but I can't imagine Christmas without it.
The story is about a church Christmas pageant in which the Herdmans, the wildest, toughest kids in town, move in and take over the main parts. Mary smokes cigars. The Wise Men steal. And the Angel of the Lord is more likely to smack the shepherds in the teeth than bring good news. Everyone in the church is scandalized, of course, but trying to fit the totally unsuitable Herdmans into their Biblical roles makes for one hilarious story after another. When you can get an adult and a six year old laughing out lout at the same things, you know you've got a special children's book.
If all this book had was its humor, it would be a treat, but it is a lot more than that. Under all the great jokes is another more moving story. The Herdman kids are hearing the story of Jesus' birth for the first time, and their reactions Ñ shock that anyone would put a baby in a feeding trough, fury at Herod's attempt to kill the baby, amazement at the angel's miraculous appearance to the shepherds Ñ renew the meaning of the story for those of us who have heard it hundreds of times. Little by little they become more and more effected by the story and it changes them.
In the end, this is not just a funny book, but a powerful story of redemption. Through most of the book, I can't stop laughing, but by the end I am always reading through tears, even after having read it eleven times.