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Christmas In The Big House: Christmas in the Quarters Paperback – October 1, 2002

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 4 and up
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 3
  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks (October 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0590430289
  • ISBN-13: 978-0590430289
  • Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 8.5 x 0.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,418,327 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

On a Virginia plantation in 1859, the enslaved families work hard to get both the Big House and their own Quarters ready for Christmas. "The McKissacks carefully and convincingly delineate the discrepancies between the two milieus, and the contrast is startling and stirring," wrote PW in a starred review. "Thompson's remarkably realistic, emotion-charged paintings masterfully tie together the book's diverse contents." Ages 8-up.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Gr. 4-6, with interest for older readers. This unusual book shows life on a Virginia plantation in 1859. Beginning after the harvest is in, the narrative describes the preparations for the Christmas season and the celebrations that follow. The differences in resources, lifestyles, and traditions between the plantation owner's family and the slaves provides a continuous contrast. Although the slaves' hardships are evident, they are not sensationalized, and the slaves' relationships with Massa and Missus in the big house are drawn with more subtlety than in many other children's books on the period. The final scenes use ironic foreshadowing: the master tells his young daughter that she'll be old enough to have her own slave in 1865, and in the quarters, a mother tells her son not to speak of running away, because she has heard rumors of freedom coming. Dramatic, full-color illustrations throughout the book offer windows on the period, showing individualized portraits of the characters at work, at rest, and at play. Some may find this a romanticized picture of slavery, but appended notes provide background information and show the authors' research on the period. Carolyn Phelan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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See all 11 customer reviews
I think it's wonderful, and enjoy reading it time to time, and recommending it to friends with children.
Creole Wisdom
It is an interesting book depicting how the holidays would have been celebrated during slavery in the south.
C. Nelson
Kids who read this book on their own may not catch all the references and points that the book brings up.
E. R. Bird

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on December 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book describes the customs, recipes, poems, and songs used to celebrate Christmas in the big plantation houses and in the slave quarters just before the Civil War. I was filled with great trepidation after seeing the cover of this book. It was a relief to me to find that, fortunately, the text was respectful and historically accurate. But observe, as I did, this cover. We know, after reading the book, that this picture symbolizes the rare moment when the slaves were invited into the "Big House", or home of the white slave owners, to view the Christmas trimming. Yet it cuts too closely to the ancient inaccurate image of plantation owners and their "happy" slaves (ala Gone With the Wind) for the casual person browsing this cover. The back cover does little to alleviate this fear, showing a scene of black children skipping merrily with a white child. Inside, however, the authors deal deftly with the subject. Making it very very clear that certain positive traits exhibited by the slave owners during Christmas towards their slaves were the exception and not the rule, the book gives carefully annotated scenes from the lives of white plantation owners and slaves. The pictures accompanying the text are, most times, beautifully presented. There is a shot of a bonfire that is one of the most impressive drawings I've ever seen of fire. Unfortunately, some of the models for these pictures undoubtedly suffered from hair circa 1994, since it is obviously permed to perfection in a couple scenes. Please note that the authors have a keen sense of irony that plays well. After hearing the slaves sing a song that is code for someone escaping to freedom, the plantation owner's daughter writes in her diary that the day has ended with, "the sweet sound of a happy, contented slave singing a carol".Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By SeattleBookMama on May 13, 2007
Format: Paperback
My five star rating comes with a single caveat: I don't believe this book, or any discussion of slavery, is appropriate for fourth graders, as has been suggested. This is a really well-done book, but despite the fact that it is a picture book, I feel it is better suited to grades 6-8, perhaps the occasional mature 5th grader. The topic is a painful one, especially if you are talking to large numbers of African-American children whose far-back families may well have lived in the quarters (kids like my history students). The thing I love about this book is that it doesn't try to present the slaves as essentially happy and festive, which is how they were depicted when I was growing up in the '60s. Instead, it is understood that they endure their position only because it is strategically the wrong moment to rise up and resist; you don't get the feeling these folks would really mind seeing the owners drop dead in their Christmas feast, but it isn't possible to make that happen right now, so they make the best of a bad situation, but only for the moment. The cluelessness of the white owners is beautifully rendered. That said, if you are shopping for a Christmas book to read with your young child at Christmas time to get that glowing, good-all-over feeling, this isn't the book you are looking for. Save this one for a serious discussion of slavery and the American Civil War.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By D. Blankenship HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on September 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is quite a fascinating book. Like another reviewer here, when I received this work I groaned inwardly, particularly when I noted the cover. I should have listened to the old saying "never judge a book by it's cover." This hold very true with this work. The book is the story of and a comparison of Christmas in the old south and how the folks in the "Big House" celebrated in contrast with the folks in the slave quarters. I found this work to bee extremely historically accurate. Social issues are meet head on with little or no surgar coating. The art work in this book is worth many more times the price of the book. It is truely well done. The only critical thing I might have to say here is that everything was depicted as rather clean and neat, a little too perfect. This includes the white owners living quarters and dress along with those of the slave. Things just were not that nice in those days. Other than that, I felt this was a very, very good work. I did enjoy the various recipes, discriptions of customs and songs. All in all, recommend this one highly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Plume45 on December 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
In some 60 pages (followed by 4 pages of Notes) the authors present a faithfully detailed account of the contrasting ways that Christmas was celebrated in the Big House (white masters) and down in the Negro slave Quarters. Shocking extremes are revealed; lavish hospitality of the pampered, wealthy families versus the homespun generosity and simple frolics of the overburdened, underfed slaves. From mid December through First Day the Big Times are carefully documented and contrasted. Some songs, rhymes and recipes are included for historic flavor and authenticity.

Set on a Tidewater,VA, plantation which represents several around Jamestown this book also hints of the monumental changes in social structure and laws of the impending future. With frequent references to John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859--the year of the story--there is a glimmer of hope to modern readers that slavery would not long be permitted to sully American dreams of democracy. Yet the slaves would soon learn that Freedom is a prize to be purchased with sorrow and blood. There is no definitive plot or character development, but Interesting color illustrations enhance the reader's enjoyment and overall comprehension of this modest historical treatise.
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