Polacco, P. (1989). Uncle Volva’s tree. New York: Philomel Books.
This book would be appropriate for older elementary age children. Since it describes many Ukrainian Christmas customs and traditions, it would be an effective read-aloud during December. I would use it as a way to introduce holiday customs, and it could be the start of a writing project, an art project, or perhaps a “show and tell,” where students could bring in objects that were a part of their family’s holiday traditions.
The book is a narrative in the first person. Patricia Polacco shares memories about her visits to the farm of her Great Uncle Vladimir, also known as “Volva,” and her Great Aunt Svetlana. She, her brother, and cousins would visit at Epiphany in January to celebrate the the Christmas holiday in the Russian tradition.
Uncle Vova and Aunt Svetlana had two Christmas trees. One was decorated in secret by Grandma Carle and then was viewed by the children after dinner. The other tree was decorated by the children after their sleigh ride with Uncle Vova. Uncle Vova and Aunt Svetlana had planted this tree in the middle of the driveway loop when they first came to America from Russia to celebrate putting down their “roots” in America. It was decorated with strings of berries, popcorn, bags of suet and grain, and the paper stars the children had made. This tree was for the animals, and Uncle Vova asked them to carry on the tradition even when he was no longer there.
The author gives a detailed account of the traditions and customs of her Russian family. It is interesting to read about the food, the hidden silver dollar, and the magic of the first view of the decorated tree. The book ends on a bit of a magical note, as many Christmas stories do. It captures the spirit of Christmas.
The pictures in this book are beautiful. I especially loved the one of the outside Christmas tree covered with show, berries, cardinals, and other birds. The picture of Uncle Vova leading the children, who are holding their stars, to the waiting sleigh is also one of my favorites. Anyone who loves bright colors will love this book.