It's Day 11 of our 12 Days of Christmas Picture Books series. Today's choice is a bittersweet one, probably because this time of year is both joyous and sad. We think of Christmases that went before, loved ones who aren't with us any longer, and we keep traditions that help bring these past years alive once again. It's one of the things I love most about the holidays, reminiscing with family and friends and bringing the past into the present (and presents).
I've been waiting quite a while to introduce Sprout to Patricia Polacco, the author of today's pick, Uncle Vova's Tree. Polacco's books are amazing but tend to be a bit long, better for an older preschooler than for a toddler. Her art is very folk-inspired, with a lot of color and small details that make her books just as pleasing to the eye as to the ear. And she's done a number of Christmas titles, but this is one of my favorites because of its themes of family and heritage.
In Uncle Vova's Tree, young children recall the visits to see their Uncle Vova and Aunt Svetlana at the holiays, and all the traditions the family observed that connected them to their Russian roots. There were the special foods, with all the aunts preparing the variation that was popular in their home region. There were the paper stars and the sleigh rides. And there was Uncle Vova's tree, planted in the yard when they came from Russia, which the family decorated every year with berries, grain and popcorn for the birds and wild animals in appreciation and gratitude. This was one of the children's favorite parts of Christmas with Uncle Vova. He told them always to follow the tradition, even if he wasn't there -- and the very next year, they did, in remembrance of their beloved Uncle.
This sentimental classic is one of Polacco's best, and will resonate most particularly with those who have missing spaces at the Christmas table. At the end of this lovely story, the animals and birds come on their own to decorate Uncle Vova's tree, in an emotional moment that virtually guarantees no dry eyes among the adults reading the story. For a holiday tale that reinforces the importance of family and tradition, Uncle Vova's Tree hits all the right notes.
Uncle Vova's Tree by Patricia Polacco, published by Penguin Group
Sample: "Uncle Vova clicked and gently tugged the reins, and the sleigh swooshed smoothly down the hill. Billows of steam came out of the horse's nostrils with a soft puffing sound, and his hooves made a muffled clip, clop, clop as they met the new snow."