cover image Uncle Vova's Tree

Uncle Vova's Tree

Patricia Polacco. Philomel Books, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-399-21617-6

For the children in an extended family of Russian immigrants, Christmas at Uncle Vova's provides a literal and visual feast. There is the savory porridge, kutya (each aunt's recipe is different); there are paper ornaments, a sleigh ride and, not least, Vova's loving decoration of an evergreen for the animals outside. The year after Vova's death, the family's sorrow is tempered by the miraculous sight of the animals decorating Vova's tree. Polacco uses splashes of vibrant watercolor with delicately pencilled faces--an unusual and striking technique that manages both to exude the gaiety of the celebrations in the here-and-now and to suggest the centuries on which the customs rest. She highlights intriguing details of Russian holiday lore and also pays tribute to the importance of honoring one's heritage by preserving tradition. This otherwise fine book is marred by a telling that tends too often toward stock images and phrases; owing in part to this weakness, the magical scene at the story's end seems a sentimental contrivance and fails to convince. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)