The Herdmans are the absolute worst kids in the history of the world. Okay, maybe not the world, but they're certainly awful. They lie, steal, hit, take the Lord's name in vain, cuss out their teachers, smoke cigars (even the girls), and wreak havoc wherever they go. So naturally, when they show up at church and volunteer to play the lead roles in the Christmas pageant, everybody thinks it will be a disaster. But narrator Beth Bradley's mother, who's subbing for the original director, is determined to make this the best pageant ever, Herdmans or no Herdmans.
She actually succeeds--or rather, the Herdmans do it for her. You see, they've had no exposure whatsoever to church or the Christmas story. So what a lot of Pharisee-like church members see as sacrilege are actually valid points. Why would Mary be consigned to give birth to the Son of God in a barn--where's Social Services? Shouldn't somebody show Herod who's boss? What do a bunch of shepherds have to do with anything? What if the Wise Men squealed to Herod about the baby Jesus' location? What the heck are Mary and Joseph gonna do with a bunch of fragrant oils--why don't the Wise Men give them something practical, like, you know, a ham? As Beth says, all these questions give her plenty to think about, and the rest of the church as well.
As noted, the Herdmans are not good fictional role models for your kids. Being in the Christmas pageant doesn't improve their behavior, either. Several church members don't act any better, behaving as if the Herdmans exist only to ruin everything (self-fulfilling prophecy, anyone)? In general though, this is a sweet story with a few rough edges that will give your family some fresh perspective on an age-old, treasured story and tradition.