Author Barbara Robinson, who introduced the rambunctious Herdman family – “absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world” – in her bestseller The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, died on July 9. She was 85.

Robinson was born and grew up in southern Ohio, in the river town of Portsmouth. She often credited her life in that small town as inspiring her writing, saying that it provided “great stuff to feed the imagination.” An avid reader and writer from an early age, Robinson followed her passion for both drama and writing when she attended Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. She graduated in 1948; in 1949 she married John Robinson; their family grew to include two daughters. Robinson made her home and worked in Berwyn, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb, for many years

Robinson was a Breadloaf Fellow in 1962 and wrote more than 40 short stories for newspapers and magazines, including McCall’s and Ladies’ Home Journal. In 1962 she published her first book for children, Across from Indian Shore (Lothrop, o.p.). Her most popular work, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, was released in 1972 to warm praise. In the novel, the Herdmans, none of whom has ever heard the Christmas story, offer their own wild and irreverent interpretation when they take over the annual holiday pageant one Sunday at church. Robinson adapted the book for both the stage and for television in the 1980s, and it has sold more than 3.3 million copies in all editions. She went on to create two sequels starring the Herdmans, The Best School Year Ever (HarperCollins, 1994) and The Best Halloween Ever (HarperCollins, 2004). Though she enjoyed various styles of writing over the course of her career, she noted on her Web site that she was “most happily an author of children’s books, because there’s no greater audience than boys and girls who read books and demand that those books be the most exciting, the most mysterious, the most touching, the funniest... the best.”