Allison's Book Bag

Creator of the Herdmans Family Has Died

Posted on: July 16, 2013

BarbaraRobinson“The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world,” begins The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, published in 1972. With that line, Barbara Robinson introduced readers to one of the most memorable families in children’s literature. Robinson started out as a short story writer and wrote about the Herdmans originally as a story for a McCalls magazine. With the success of the story came a full-length children’s book, a play, a movie, two sequels, and most recently a picture book.

Robinson died yesterday at her home in Pennsylvania. She was 85. According to her family, the cause was cancer.

She grew up in a southern Ohio river town and credits that small town atmosphere with affecting most of her writings. In her profile at her website, Robinson writes: “I had the benefit, as well, of a wide variety of aunts and uncles and cousins, plus the extended family so common to small-town life–the neighbors, friends, teachers, bus drivers, mailmen, local heroes and local neer-do-wells, and even a local blacksmith . . . great stuff to feed the imagination.” She began writing at an early age and never stopped.

I had the pleasure of hearing Barbara Robinson speak about the creation of her three Herdmans novels at the 2011 Plum Creek Literacy Festival. She told not only of how her first book began as a short story, but also of how the others came about because of reader demand. The Best School Year Ever was even inspired by students. Apparently, tor months, Robinson had recorded ideas on index cards for a sequel. Then upon a return visit to a school, one boy asked, “When are you going to finish it?” Robinson admitted to having all these funny ideas but nothing to tie them together. The boy told her, “You need them to be in school, because that’s our job.” The Best School Year Ever won the Nebraska Golden Sower award and is perhaps even more popular among kids than her first book.

At this festival, Robinson alluded to plans for a fourth Herdmans book, perhaps where they attend camp. Sadly, it seems was never completed. The literary world is richer though for the stories which Robinson has left behind.

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