I’m sure most of you around my age grew up reading Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. While it may not quite have the level of a Frosty or a Charlie Brown, the story of the ill-behaved Herdman kids discovering the true meaning of the season is a Christmas perennial, and one of the stories I loved around the holidays. What I didn’t know until recently, however, is that Robinson followed up Christmas Pageant years later with another Herdman book, The Best School Year Ever, then in 2004 came back for round three with The Best Halloween Ever.
Evidently, learning the true meaning of Christmas didn’t have as big an impact on the Herdman kids as one would have thought, because this Halloween they’re back to their rotten behavior, and once again, the town is in a panic as they anticipate the kids ruining another holiday. Worried about the years the Herdmans have spent mugging other kids and stealing their Halloween candy, to say nothing of the wanton vandalism they participate in each year, the mayor of the town declares that there will be no public Halloween celebration this year – no trick-or-treating, no Halloween candy for sale at the stores… nothing. To help placate the mobs of unhappy hits, the elementary school decides to hold its own Halloween festivities, which seems like it may actually be fun when the Herdman kids decide they don’t want to go.
Although I’ve got a great appreciation for kids’ books, sometimes it just hits me that these books aren’t for me. When I read about the mayor actually cancelling Halloween, the adult in my brain (I know, he usually stays quiet) starts telling me that such a thing would be utter political suicide, even if they mayor did have the power to tell business owners that they couldn’t stock Halloween candy, which I’m pretty sure the typical small-town mayor does not. So while that nagged at me for the rest of the book, I’m sure kids reading it wouldn’t be thinking much further than, “No Halloween? NO!!!!”
Which, frankly, probably makes for a better reading experience.
Structurally, the story is almost identical to Christmas Pageant: people are terrified of the Herdmans ruining the holiday, the Herdmans wind up involved anyway, in the end it’s the best holiday ever – not in spite of their involvement, but because of it. (I haven’t read Best School Year, but I’d lay odds it’s the same formula.) The most unique thing about it is the motivation at the end. While Christmas Pageant seemed to involve a genuine change of heart for the Herdmans, in Halloween they save the day more as a “screw you” to the people who didn’t want them involved in the first place. It’s enough to make it feel like a different story and not just a pure carbon copy, but it does leave it as a book that lacks the sweetness of the original.
It is still a cute book, though. If you introduced your kids to the Herdmans last Christmas, this is a worthy book to pick up for them to read the night before you take ‘em around trick-or-treating, or maybe after they get home. But if you’re hoping to recapture the magic you felt 30 years ago, it may not quite do the trick.