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Author's works show longevity of classics

November 10, 1998

Barbara RobinsonBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




GREENCASTLE, Pa. - The 150 third-graders sitting on the gym floor listening intently to Barbara Robinson on Tuesday were not only her audience. They were also her readers, along with millions of other kids around the globe.

Robinson, 71, came to Greencastle-Antrim Elementary School to talk to the kids about the Herdmans, a family of six unruly, though not evil, grammar school kids whose misadventures are the subject of her two most popular books: "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," which she turned into a play and film, and "The Worst Best School Year Ever." Both have been translated into foreign languages.

More than 2 million copies of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" have been sold in both hard cover and paperback, she said. She wrote it in 1972 when she was still a stay-at-home mom.

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"I never dreamed that it would be around as long or that it would have the life that it has," Robinson said. "There are many great books around, but they don't last."

Robinson grew up in Ohio and had a string of odd jobs, including working in a bakery and in a government office building. She took up her longtime hobby of writing while staying home to raise her two daughters.

She has written 60 short stories, seven children's books, a play, television film, and has won a Pennsylvania Choice Award. Her books have been translated into foreign languages.

Robinson told the third-graders that she started to write when she was their age, "but I was grown up before I started getting any checks."

The kids asked her a barrage of questions - how she invented the Herdman family, where she got the names for her characters and where she gets her ideas.

She said the Herdman family came to her because she wanted a familiar theme for a Christmas pageant book. She came up with the idea of children in a hard-luck, single-mom family who had never heard of Christmas or had an appreciation of it.

"I got to make them up. They're my own people. The name seemed right for them. Sometimes I get names out of the telephone book," she said.

She gets many ideas for her books from her own small-town roots, she said.

"I write because I love to read. Most writers do," Robinson told the students. "I wasn't sure I could."

She said she often rewrites and revises a book a dozen times during the writing.

"Sometimes I don't know the ending until I get to it," she said.

Tuesday's visit was one of her stops as she travels around the country talking to kids about her books.

"I do it more than I should. Last month I was in South Dakota, Texas and Boston," she said.

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