Uncle Vova's Tree

Uncle Vova's Tree by Patricia Polacco. Philomel Books, 1989.

If you were to ask Mr. B, "Who is your favorite current children's book author," he would say, "Patricia Polacco." We do not own any of her books (yet - we need to change this soon!) and the girls have only read two or three. Mr. B. used to work in a book store, too, and he told me that whenever her books came into receiving, he would stop for a moment and read them. I am trying to check everything out that I can now, including this out-of-print gem.

Uncle Vova's Tree takes place in the home of Polacco's great aunt and uncle, as they host the extended family for the Russian Orthodox Christmas feast, which takes place at Epiphany, in January.

There are so many marvelous touches, as Polacco recounts the traditions, crafts, and foods of her relatives, who came from multiple parts of Russia. You find yourself forgetting that the story takes place on a Midwestern farm.

Look at this cake! I want this cake.

At the center of it all is the family patriarch, Uncle Vova, who adores Christmas the most. Vova dances, and leads the children through the snow for a sleigh ride, at the end of which they decorate a large outdoor tree - Uncle Vova's tree - for the animals on the farm.

After decorating Uncle Vova's tree, the children return to the house for the feast and to see the Christmas tree, decorated by the women while they were out.

Uncle Vova makes the children promise to never forget his tree.

The following Christmas, Uncle Vova is gone. Christmas just isn't the same. Then they remember the tree. They forgot the tree! Everyone rushes outside...

to find a Christmas miracle.

It may take you out of the homey realism of the story a bit, to see animals decorating a tree. But the sentiment, not to mention the beautiful illustrations, may make you willing to suspend your disbelief for a while.

In addition to this one, we checked out a lovely book called The Trees of the Dancing Goats, which takes place in the home of her Russian-Jewish grandparents. It is Hanukkah, and Grampa has carved marvelous wooden animals to give as gifts for the eight nights. When the Christian friends and neighbors fall victim to scarlet fever, the family cuts small Christmas trees, decorated with the wooden animals, to deliver to the neighbors for Christmas.

I know I'll be playing catch-up, checking out more by Patricia Polacco this year, which will please Mr. B to no end. The man has great taste.

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Winter Reading

Happy 9th Day of Christmas! There are no ladies dancing - at least, not at my house. The weather is dreary, with a wintery mix of rain, sleet, and snow on the docket. We have been utterly lazy, and our sleep schedules are ruined. I am trying to get on top of things today.

Yesterday, I finished one more Christmasy book.

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories,
edited by Stephanie Perkins.
St. Martin's, 2014.

I highly recommend this book to fans of modern YA. There are some heavy-hitters here, including Holly Black, Ally Carter, and Rainbow Rowell. The stories focus on the winter holiday season, with romance involved, to varying extents. While not every story was memorable, they were all a worthy way to pass some time. I think my favorite was "Christmas, California" by Kiersten White. I don't think I've read anything else by her, and going by her blog, it looks as though her novels are paranormal romance, but this short story was different. The tales by Myra McEntire, Stephanie Perkins, David Levithan, and Holly Black stood out, too.

I'm gearing up for my post-Christmas winter reading, too. Every year, our public library has an Adult Winter Reading Program, which I've only managed to participate in once. In 2013 and 2014, I was acting in plays that opened in February, and when I have lines to memorize, my reading slows down significantly. Alas, I have no plays on the horizon. Come February, it will have been one whole year since my last play, which makes me sad. Part of it is my availability, in that I won't audition for plays that run during Halloween or Christmas. Someday, my girls won't want to do fun family things with me, and maybe then I'll do holiday shows, but while they're young and still care, I want to be available. Unfortunately, whenever I have auditioned lately, it hasn't panned out. I'm crossing my fingers that I might get to do something this spring or summer.

Instead of feeling down, I'm looking at the bright side. I get to participate in the Adult Winter Reading Program this year!

This year, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the old Carnegie library building downtown, the theme is "A Century of Reading." The website states: "Read or listen to five different books, in five different decades between 1915 and today (may be first published in, take place in, or be about the decade)." 

Over on Facebook, the Audrey Eclectic Read-Along group has decided to read Stella Gibbons's Cold Comfort Farm for January. I have a gorgeous copy of that book from a used book store, a Folio Society edition from 1977, with full-color illustrations by Quentin Blake!

This takes care of the 1930s. Cold Comfort Farm was first published in 1932. It didn't take long to decide on F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise, published in 1920, for another selection. As you might be able to tell from my top photo, my copy of the book is just a cheap Dover Thrift Edition, not even as attractive as the one Dover currently has in print. I love The Great Gatsby and Fitzgerald's short stories. I've read The Beautiful and Damned and Tender is the Night. Yet despite my choice in wall decor...

I've never read This Side of Paradise. [I want that cover.]

For the 1940s, I ordered a new copy of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by R.A. Dick. 

It's part of a new line called "Vintage Movie Classics: Novels that Inspired Great Films." The 1947 movie starring Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison is one of my all-time favorites.

I had to request my last two choices from the library. For the 1950s, I have decided to read Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis. For some reason, there is only one copy available at the library, and it's in storage! It looks to be an original 1950s edition, though...

I've wanted to read it for a long time, and I was just talking about the Rosalind Russell movie version with someone the other day.

I thought I owned the last book I chose, but if I do, I don't know where it is! My mother has pestered me to read Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle for years. I was sure I finally picked up a copy somewhere. Who knows? Perhaps it will turn up, but until then, I've requested the one copy at the library. That will take care of the 1960s.

If I want to be terribly ambitious, I can try to read 100 books in 2015, as part of the library's Century Book Club. While I did bump up my Goodreads Reading Challenge to 50, I think 100 might be out of my reach. Unless they started counting picture books...  [wink]

I still have Christmasy stuff to share this weekend. Are you tired of me yet?  Stay tuned!

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Happy New Year!

Hello, 2015!  Happy New Year to One and All! 

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Christmas Break

Little Sis got this sweet little placemat from her friend at church. She left Santa a note to say "I love you." (He answered.)

This Christmas break is flying by! I cannot believe it is the last day of 2014. I have a cough and cold now. We are being lazy right now, but soon, we must tackle Mt. Laundry.

As promised, here is a look at some of our winter break.

A trip to Illuminations at Botanica, on the first evening of winter:

This little guy was in the gift shop. His price tag was a bit too steep for me, but I wanted him. You know I did.

The girls and I sat outside the downtown branch of the library, listening to the Christmas carol carillon concert across the street. We love the old City Building / Historical Museum.

The girls got a Christmas tree cookie pan with sprinkles and icing in their Advent calendar. I made the cookie and the white icing. I let them take it from there. (Too. Much.)

Little Sis was a lamb in the church Christmas pageant again. Big Sis did not want to be an angel again, so she opted to be a shepherd instead. Three days later, we let them stay up to attend the 11 PM Christmas Eve service. I'm not sure that was the best idea. It was a bit much for Little Sis, who is wired so differently from her sister. I think we'll attend the 7 PM service next year.

Christmas morning was low-key. So was dinner. My dad and grandma joined us. I made this cake. Mr. B made a pork roast.

Big Sis got her own vintage "big-eyed" doll with a tear: a Love Me Linda by Vogue. (This blogger does a nice job of describing her. There is also a Flickr pool devoted to her.)  She and Little Miss No Name got acquainted. There were lots of Legos this year (Ghostbusters!!!), a new Sonny Angel, some bacon-themed stocking stuffers.

I took Big Sis to see the other local production of The Nutcracker. (Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle from the New York City Ballet guest-starred!) We drove around to look at lights. The girls' fairy godparents came bearing gifts (including a beautiful Nutcracker music box for Big Sis, and an awesome airplane picture frame for Little Sis). We had a late Christmas at my sister's, where Little Sis got this awesome Amelia t-shirt, and Big Sis received a box of A Series of Unfortunate Events and the book Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu.

Mr. B has been to work a few days. The girls and I have snuggled at home with Netflix (this show, total binge-watch) and Blu-Rays (YES). We started reading the first Harry Potter book together. We've enjoyed sipping Winter Spice tea and eating lots of chocolate. (Ritter Sport Coffee and Hazelnuts may be the most amazing thing ever. I have awesome friends.) And look at the candle my friend Amy in New York brought me!

Our white Christmas landed on the sixth day of Christmas. We braved the cold and snow to see Into the Woods. [Our thoughts? Big Sis and I liked it. We did not like the changes made to Rapunzel's ending. It weakened the story. Little Sis did not like it, and wishes the old Bernadette Peters/Joanna Gleason stage version was back on Netflix. You know we're a theatre family when mom and kiddos can compare a movie musical to both a filmed stage version and live local productions...]

I snapped this picture of the theater marquee in the snow before we left.

We have no big New Year's plans. Mr. B is home, but between illness and housework, my energy is waning. I hope everyone out there in Blogland has a beautiful 2015!

See you next year!

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The Twelve Days of Christmas (LeUyen Pham)

The Twelve Days of Christmas, illustrated by LeUyen Pham.
Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2014.

Happy Sixth Day of Christmas! Which one is this...  Oh yes, six geese a-laying.

Okay, so while I like the imagery in the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas," let's face it, it's pretty repetitive. The only version I like to listen to is the one by John Denver & the Muppets. Of course, anytime we hear or sing the song, my whole family must add in Miss Piggy's "ba dum dum dum"s after "five gold rings."

But the images in the song are beautiful, which means they can lead to some fabulous illustrations. I bought a sweet Little Golden Book version at the used book store, illustrated by Sheilah Beckett, which I planned on sharing with you. Alas, I don't feel like doing two "Twelve Days of Christmas" posts, and this gorgeous new version I checked out from the library won.

I love LeUyen Pham! And her take on this carol is a treasure. The little couple is charming and sweet, there are adorable bits of humor, and wait until you get to day eight. WOW.

I love the illustration for "five gold rings." Look at the little fellow, hushing one of the geese from the next page.

And this is where the book turns spectacular. These maids a-milking are special.

Same goes for the dancing ladies, the leaping lords, the pipers and drummers.

The song culminates in one glorious multicultural mix of characters.

After the thrilling illustrations, I was pleased to find the song itself in sheet music form, as well as an explanation of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

There isn't much more for me to say, is there? I'm so not a reviewer. I'm more of a "Hey! Look at this, isn't it cool?!" sort of blogger.

Tomorrow, I'll take a little break from books, in order to show you a bit from our week. I cannot believe tomorrow is New Year's Eve! Christmas Eve was really a whole week ago? Huh, what? Where did our week go, let alone the past year?!

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