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Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  124 ratings  ·  29 reviews
Rich in historical detail and filled with luminous illustrations, this poignant book movingly describes the holiday celebrations of both slaves and slave owners on a pre-Civil War plantation.

The year is 1859, and it's Christmastime on a Virginia Plantation. The slaves are cleaning and setting up the Big House--where their masters live--for the festivities. The Big House is
Paperback, 80 pages
Published October 1st 2002 by Scholastic Paperbacks (first published 1994)
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3.80  · 
Rating details
 ·  124 ratings  ·  29 reviews

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Luisa Knight
A very insightful look into how the Christmas holiday would have been celebrated, by both free and slave, in Virginia in 1859.

Ages: 9+

Cleanliness: Mentions alcohol and tobacco. "Thank goodness" is exclaimed.

**Like my reviews? I also have hundreds of detailed reports that I offer too. These reports give a complete break-down of everything in the book, so you'll know just how clean it is or isn't. I also have Clean Guides (downloadable PDFs) which enable you to clean up your book before reading i
Kris Dersch
Well-researched look into a specific moment in time when a particular era in history is about to come to an end. Does a nice job of letting us look at slave traditions without glamorizing slavery. Very important holiday book for kids.
Dec 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: childrens, christmas
Hiding in the guise of a holiday picture book, this Coretta Scott King award winner is really about a country on the brink of war. I was concerned at first that it would be providing an overly saccharine take on slave life in order to draw parallels between Christmas celebrations of the whites and blacks at the time, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I should have know to trust Patricia and Fredrick McKissack who are excellent African American authors. Right from the outset, the Autho ...more
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I think this book would have been better if there had been more illustrations and if the format had been less dense. The separation between the Big House and the Quarters just wasn't done that smoothly in my opinion. Plus, this is a very dated edition.

I think the ending of this book is better than the beginning. At the end, you really realize how much better Christmas time (of The Big Times) is better for slaves than after. In the beginning of the book, it seems more of a difference between the
Nov 05, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: for-little-ones
This book leaves the reader with a dangerously happy outlook of what it meant to be a slave. Did slave owners invite their slaves into their home and shower them with (albeit hand me down) gifts? Was there no sense of community within the slaves own quarters, that they only felt joy when invited into their master’s home for Christmas? Were slaves really deep down happy people, but would be happier if they were free? According to Patricia and Frederick McKissack in Christmas in the Big House, yes ...more
Holly Brown
Nov 27, 2012 rated it liked it
This book is about Christmas in 1859. It shows the traditions that the masters of the slaves have, as well as the traditions of the slaves. This book is set right before the slaves are set free and shows the views of slavery on both sides.

I wasn't that interested in this book. I am not much of a history fan, so this book was boring at times to me.

I would use this book in my classroom to teach my students about slavery in the US before the Civil War. This book would be an excellent way to show th
Dec 28, 2007 rated it it was ok
This is a children's book and was mildly interesting. The illustrations were oddly rendered - almost photographic but everyone seemed lopsided - and the text was quirky too - sort of told a story but then would interject fact - like the 'Big House' family burned their Christmas tree on New Year's Day but some neighboring families kept theirs up until Epiphany. The idea of contrasting the Christmas experience of the family in the Big House with the Sales in the Quarters is a good one, though.
Nancy Karwatka
Jan 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I selected this book to be discussed with our 9 year old granddaughter. It's set in the deep south and how the people in the "Big House" and the slaves celebrated Christmas. I think it is an educational book which covers a very unpleasant part of our history but it simply shows the differences of how Christmas was celebrated back then by the slaves and their owners.
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Read this as a child, just as good the second time around. Though, as an adult, you pick up on a lot more nuance...
This was an excellently written and remarkably well-researched book. The juxtaposition of the white plantation owners' lives with those of the enslaved African Americans was clearly drawn, but literally and figuratively. The attitudes (and sometimes the faked attitudes) or the people in the story were also very revealing. The owners do seem fairly idiotic to some extent for not figuring out how upset the workers are, and it might have been my imagination, but while the African American portraits ...more
Faith Joy
Nov 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
“Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters” will take you back in time with its rich historical details taking place in 1859. It’s Christmastime on a Virginia Plantation. The slaves are helping set up and clean the “Big House”- where their masters live- for the Christmas festivities. Their house is filled with warmth, colorful decorations, and good food. In the quarters- where the slaves live- there is talk of war and a feeling that times will be changing. The conditions are poor, di ...more
Dec 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
“A Tidewater Upstairs, Downstairs”

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; the lavish hospitality of 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 docum
Cara Wilson
Mar 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters by Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack
Cara W., Spring 2015

This book shows life on a plantation in the south in 1853. The view points are from both parties, the slaves and the landowners. This is not a true story, but is a historical fiction of sorts as it takes the readers on a “tour” of what would be happening in each part of the plantation.

I found this book very visually exciting. The pictures are photographic and there are ot
Oct 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: children-s
This book tells a narrative story based on multiple actual accounts that demonstrates the differences in the Christmas experiences between slaves and their owners in 1859.

This book fascinating and very well-written. The book conveys accurate portrayals of the lives of slaves and plantation owners during this time. The authors conducted much research while working on this book. The book incorporates slave songs, and even Christmas recipes from both slave and white kitchens of the time. There is a
Emily Garrison
Sep 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book has won the Coretta Scott King Award. This story is full of amazing illustrations and is a true retelling of some of the last Yuletide celebrations on plantations prior to the Southern Rebellion. The book tells an incredible story about what happens in preparation for and in celebration of Christmas (The Big Times) in both the big house (the plantation house) and in the slave quarters. I really enjoyed reading about the traditions of the master and the slave and how they were similar i ...more
This book would be good for middle elementary students (grades 3-4). It shows the different ways both slaves and slave owners celebrated Christmas during the Civil War. This would be great to go with a History lesson, and introduce some of the ideas of slavery and vocabulary.
Sep 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is what Everyone should read. It tells the two sides of the story. You get the glamor and grandeur of the big house. You also get to see the quarters and how they celebrated the same holiday.

The illustrations add that extra something to the story.

Add this to your reading list.
Apr 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sencillo, pero emotivo. Al menos eso me pareció a mi.
Victoria Greer
Nov 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An heirloom book for christmas.
Karen Gibson
Jul 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Very well written and informative.
Apr 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A well written and child friendly account highlighting the differences between slaveholders and slaves in the 1850s.
Bonnie Pohlig
Jul 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
The story of Christmas on a Virginia plantation in 1859. It held my interest very well, and I learned a lot, too.
Amy Yount
Jan 28, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommended Reading Chapter 1
Jan 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Historically accurate, but not very uplifting. Or maybe I just can't be lifted up right now.
Jewell DeLeon
Oct 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Christmas time 1859. Before the Civil War, two very different sets of traditions entwined in each other.
Children's Books
Carmen Slaughter
rated it it was amazing
Nov 07, 2016
Mike Thompson
rated it it was amazing
Aug 05, 2018
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Patricia C. McKissack was the Newbery Honor, Coretta Scott King Award-winning author of The Dark-Thirty and Porch Lies an ALA Notable Book. She collaborated with Jerry Pinkney on Goin' Someplace Special (Coretta Scott King Award winner) and Mirandy and Brother Wind (Coretta Scott King Award winner and Caldecott Honor Book).
“Most of the time, there’s no need for fancy clothes--having to work in the fields day in, day out. But the Big Times don’t come but once a year. Nobody wants to look bad or feel bad then. Plenty of time to do that all year.” 0 likes
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