Book Review: Christmas in the Big House

Title: Christmas in the Big House

Author: Patricia C. McKissack

Illustrator: Frederick L. McKissack

Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.


Christmas in the Big House written and illustrated by the husband / wife team known in the non-fiction literature world simply as “The McKissacks” is a charming and completely idealized version of the joy of Christmas for African Americans living in slavery.  Marketed as non-fiction, this book boasts beautiful painted illustrations full of joy and happiness, eliciting all those warm fuzzy feelings we cherish during the holiday season. But when it comes to cultural accuracy and political correctness, this book can boast no more. The disconnect between the warm glow of the illustrations, which show slave and master celebrating the holiday season as one happy family and what I consider to be non-fiction is disgusting.

The McKissacks are known for their brilliant biographies which often focus on African Americans. Big House, however, is a mash-up of many stories from the slavery era, and though the situations portrayed are taken from real accounts, the mixing and idealizing that went into this is can only be claimed as historical fiction, at best. Libraries don’t even know what to do with it. I found it at my local library shelved under “holiday”, which is a cop out if you ask me. I would rather a librarian speak out against what they know to be a book improperly categorized as non-fiction by shelving it under just what is it: fictional picturebook. 

This book leaves the reader with a dangerously happy outlook of what it meant to be a slave. Did slaves ALWAYS talk about freedom, even during holidays? 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. A true disappointment in children’s literature, I would keep this book out of the stockings (and off of my bookshelf) this Christmas. 


Posted by: Janine Reads


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