I know for a fact I read this book in elementary school, but I didn't remember anything about it. It turns out The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is about how the Herdmans, a gang of ill-bred ruffian poor children, hijack the Christmas play at Church because they thought there would be food, and they end up teaching everyone in town the lesson that.....they have feelings? I think that's it. It was marvelous.
The narrative, from the perspective of the daughter of the woman who ends up having to direct the pageant, is deadpan and with the humor mostly being carried by the dialogue between her parents and a lengthy segment where the hard-bitten urchins are disgusted by the treatment Mary and Joseph receive in Bethlehem and the poor quality of gifts offered by the wise men.
The humor is great, but there is a core of genuine sympathy in the book. Robinson cleverly cuts through all of the 'expected' traditions and finds a way to express the, yes I'm going to say it, the true meaning of Christmas. There isn't much resolution, but it does raise many questions, which can be a good thing when one enters into the dicey territory of Christmas fodder. This is a quick read for Christmas day and can be supplemented by the 1983 television special.