|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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