Children’s author born and raised in Portsmouth

Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer (Sept. 7, 2016) listed the most famous person from each of Ohio’s 88 counties at Roy Rogers received the honor for Scioto County for more than 100 film roles and his television series.

But, I would like to recognize another talented person from Scioto County.

Barbara Jean Webb was born on Oct. 24, 1927, in Portsmouth. Her mother, Grace, taught school in Scioto County. Her father, Theodore, died when she was 3 years old. Webb graduated from Portsmouth High School and Allegheny College. She married John Robinson, raised two daughters, and lived in Pennsylvania.

Barbara Robinson, an American author, was best known for her children’s book, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” (1972). “The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world,” is how the book, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” begins. Six unruly siblings are part of the Herdsmans clan: Imogene, Claude, Ralph, Leroy, Ollie and Gladys. “They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old broken-down toolhouse.” The siblings attend church for the first time after being told the church offers snacks. Despite protests from other church members, they are given roles in the Christmas play. The children make a mess of the performance by telling Herod where the baby Jesus is born. The raggedy bunch eventually discovers the real meaning of Christmas, and that endears the story to readers.

Are the Herdmans characters real children? When asked by a Houston Chronicle reporter in 2011, Robinson said, “I made the kids up. Though children and teachers tell me they know all about them. I grew up in a small southern Ohio River town, and my mother taught school there for 49 years, so I’m sure I’d picked up a lot about kids along the way. One little boy told me that I had the Herdmans do ‘all the things I wanted to do and couldn’t’ — which may be part of the story’s appeal. But they’re the kind of kids who are not really bone-bad. There’s always a little redeeming something there.”

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” won a Georgia Children’s Book Award, and was recognized by Publishers Weekly, American Library Association and the Library of Congress. The book sold more than 3.3 million copies in all editions.

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” was made into a classic television movie, and continues to be produced in schools and theaters in America and other countries. Stage One, the world renowned Theatre for Young Audiences in Louisville, Ky., performed the play annually for more than 20 years. “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical” premiered at the Children’s Theatre in Charlotte, N.C., in 2016.

The Herdmans children were featured in two sequels, “The Best Halloween Ever!\” and “The Best School Year Ever.” Robinson also wrote more than 40 short stories for newspapers and magazines.

Robinson died of cancer on July 9, 2013, at the age of 85, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

I bestow remembrance, acknowledgment and appreciation on Barbara Jean Webb-Robinson, born and raised in Portsmouth — gifted children’s author who blessed the world with her imagination, creativity and book contributions.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. Contact her at

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. Contact her at