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Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters

by Patricia McKissack

Book list 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

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly On a Virginia plantation in 1859, the slaves work hard to get the Big House ready for Christmas, and to prepare their own Quarters for the ``Big Times'' also. As they describe the goings-on during the weeks before Christmas as well as the actual rituals of the day, the McKissacks carefully and convincingly delineate the discrepancies between the two milieux-from the physical settings to the people's differing appreciations of the holiday's riches. The contrast is startling and stirring. This is a book of significant dimension and importance, and could be read at any time of year. The authors also add riddles, rhymes, recipes and copious notes. Rendered in acrylic on board, Thompson's remarkably realistic paintings are charged with emotion and masterfully tie together the book's diverse contents. Ages 8-13. (Oct.)

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