I’ll always remember the Christmas my parents visited us in Virginia and we decorated a balsam fir tree together. Unlike the artificial trees that defined my childhood in Hawai’i, this one was real — it liked to drop its needles but how we loved that woodsy, fragrant evergreen smell!
We sat around the kitchen table and strung garlands of popcorn and fresh cranberries while a cozy fire crackled in the adjoining great room. This was novel for us, but our lei-making experience served us well when it came to handling big needles and long strands of thread. Of course our tree was the best Christmas tree ever, because with shared memories, mugs of warm cider, and a nice collection of handmade ornaments, we had made it our own.
Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht and Jarvis (Candlewick, 2017) celebrates all the joy, wonder, magic and anticipation of finding and decorating that special tree. Written in jaunty rhyming verse, this book is well on its way to becoming a perennial favorite with its timeless sentiment.
In snowy weather, a biracial family of four ventures to a Christmas tree lot where they find their perfect tree.
Pick a pine tree
from the lot —
slim and tall
or short and squat.
One with spiky needle clumps,
scaly bark, or sappy bumps.
Long, straight limbs
or branches bent —
mmm! Just smell
that piney scent!
Once they get the tree home, they make room for it in their living room, trim the trunk, screw it into the stand, and water it. Then it’s time to bring all the trimmings down from the attic in time for a decorating party!
With eager friends and neighbors, they string lights around the tree and hang ornaments “in little nooks,” string colorful garlands from “bough to bough,” and add shiny strands of tinsel “falling down /in silver drips.” Then at the very top, a golden star. At the bottom, a tree skirt, a little village of houses “flecked with snow,” and a train “that chugs around a track,/secret presents/in a sack.”
When all is done, it’s finally time “to make it SHINE!” In a darkened room, they plug in the lights, and voila!: the pine tree has been transformed into a breathtakingly beautiful Christmas tree!
Jarvis’s pencil, chalk, paint, and digitally colored illustrations have a retro, handcrafted charm and exude buckets of holiday cheer and festive camaraderie. His layers of colors, textures, and shapes are gorgeous, making each picture come alive with energy and warmth (and keep your eye on that mischievous white cat).
From the first swirl of chilly snowflakes in the tree lot, to the dazzling radiance of outdoor lights, to the indoor coziness as the tree is lovingly decorated, leading up to the dramatic moment when it’s finally lit, one can truly feel the excitement mounting and the swell of pride at a job well done. Wait till you see the vertically oriented double page spread of the finished tree!
No matter your age, Pick a Pine Tree will rekindle fond memories of Christmas trees past, and spark your excitement for those to come. Now, let’s hear more about the book’s sparkle, shimmer, and shine from Patty, who’s also sharing some lovely family photos and a favorite cookie recipe. 🙂
🎄 CHATTING WITH PATRICIA TOHT 🎄
What inspired you to write this story? Are you partial to pines for Christmas trees? 🙂
My family is big on Christmas traditions, and decorating the tree is a favorite. The text for the book started out as a smaller poem about hanging ornaments and grew to include all of the steps for decorating a tree.
As for the type of tree I like, I’m quite partial to balsams because they smell SO GOOD!
Why did you decide on a rhyming text? What was particularly challenging about writing it?
I’m a poet at heart, so many things that I write come out in rhyme. This book came to me quickly, because it was easy to mine my own memories about decorating for the holidays. But it took quite awhile to sell it. Editors are often hesitant about taking rhyming texts. I heard it explained once this way: It’s not that editors don’t like rhyme, it’s that they don’t like BAD rhyme, and they’re not sure how to fix it.
Please share a favorite tree trimming memory from your childhood.
A younger brother and I liked to hide little green army men in the tree (like the ones in the movie Toy Story). We’d have them hanging off branches and repelling down tinsel, in a giant tree battleground. But when it was time for the tree to go out to the curb at the end of the holidays, we always had trouble finding them all. In the spring, when the lawn received its first mowing, army men would shoot out from under the mower.
When your children were little, did you go out together to pick a tree like the family in your story? Were there any new or different tree trimming rituals you adopted with them?
We usually went as a family to pick out a tree. We lived in the Chicago area, so sometimes that meant really cold or snowy weather. My poor husband often ended up on the ground, sawing down a tree, while the kids and I bailed to the car to warm up.
As for a special family tradition, when my four kids were growing up, they each received an ornament at Christmas that reflected something special about that year. They loved opening the boxes of decorations each year to find their ornaments to hang. Three of our kids now have places of their own, and their ornaments have gone with them to decorate their own trees.
What other holiday traditions did they especially enjoy?
We have a few special books that are pulled out every Christmas. One is a lovely edition of The Night Before Christmas, illustrated by Scott Gustafson, and we read it every Christmas Eve. Another one is The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, by Gloria Houston, illustrated by Barbara Cooney. My daughter, Ruthie, who had coal-black hair and bright blue eyes when she was born, was named for the main character in that book, and she has her own tiny “Ruthie” angel that goes on our tree.
Lucky you, having lived in London for four years! Are there any particular British holiday traditions — things we don’t do here in the U.S. — that you found especially appealing?
We loved living in London and had wonderful Christmases there. We’ve adopted having Christmas crackers at dinner. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re like toilet paper tubes that are filled with a paper crown, a toy, and a joke, then wrapped in Christmas paper. They pop when they’re pulled apart and you wear the crowns during dinner.
We also serve sticky toffee pudding for dessert, which is very British. It’s a date cake soaked in toffee sauce and topped with vanilla sauce or ice cream. (One year, my husband raided the fridge for leftovers and served himself a pile of potatoes with lots of gravy. Or so he thought. The “gravy” was actually the leftover toffee sauce…)
What do you like best about Jarvis’s illustrations? Do you have a favorite?
I am so blessed that Jarvis was selected as the illustrator for Pick a Pine Tree! It’s really hard to pick a favorite illustration. I think I love the “glowing” spreads the most – the “host a decorating day” with welcoming open door, and the spread in which the tree lights are turned on.
Tell us about several of your favorite ornaments, ones that your Christmas tree wouldn’t be complete without. Do you collect any specific types of ornaments?
The joke in our family is that the tree is not complete until we add the gun-toting, toilet-paper-tube snowman. My youngest son made it and it’s quite hideous. My husband has an amazing collection of animated ornaments like a train that runs around a track, a roller coaster, Santa in a swing, etc.
Anything else you’d like us to know about Pick a Pine Tree?
Jarvis didn’t plan this, but the white cat in the tree looks like my daughter’s cat, Khaleesi!
What’s next for you?
I have a companion book to Pick a Pine Tree coming out in 2019. It’s called Pick a Pumpkin, and it’s about turning a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern. Jarvis will illustrate that one, too. So exciting!
Please share a favorite holiday recipe with us, explaining its origin.
My family is not German, but we make hundreds of Spritz cookies each year. The kids always liked adding the sprinkles, the more the merrier!
Toht Family Spritz Cookies
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 3/4 cup of sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2-1/2 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- pinch of salt
- green food coloring (optional)
Preheat oven to 375°F.
In a mixer, cream the butter. Add sugar and cream again. Beat in egg and vanilla. If using food coloring, mix in now. In a separate bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined.
Fit a Christmas tree disc into a cookie press, and fill with dough. Press cookies onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Decorate with multi-colored sprinkles (they look like tiny, ball ornaments).
Bake for 6 minutes. Let cool on the sheet for a minute, then transfer to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container.
Note: I prefer an old-fashioned Wilton cookie press because I can control the amount of dough that is expressed each time. My press makes cookies that are about 2 inches in size. If your press makes bigger cookies, adjust the baking time.
~ Recipe by Patricia Toht, author of Pick a Pine Tree (Candlewick, 2017), as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.
PICK A PINE TREE
written by Patricia Toht
illustrated by Jarvis
published by Candlewick Press, September 2017
Picture Book for ages 3-7, 40 pp.
**Starred review from Kirkus**
♥ Visit Patricia Toht’s Official Website for fun Pick a Pine Tree Crafts, including cut-out ornaments and 3 more holiday recipes!
♥ Enjoy this short trailer:
📕 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! 📗
The publisher has generously donated a copy of Pick a Pine Tree for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, please leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EST), Tuesday, December 5, 2017. You may also enter by sending an email with PINE TREE in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only, please. Good Luck!
🎉 BOOK GIVEAWAY WINNERS! 🎈
Thanks to everyone who entered our last two giveaways. Here are the winners:
For BREATHE AND BE by Kate Coombs and Anna Emilia Laitinen, the winner is Judee Algazi from Gluten Free A – Z Blog!
For DUMPLING DREAMS by Carrie Clickard and Katy Wu, the winner is Brenda Davis Harsham at Friendly Fairy Tales!
Congratulations, Judee and Brenda!! Please send along your snail mail addresses to receive your books. 🙂
Our lovely and talented Poetry Friday coordinator Mary Lee Hahn is hosting the Roundup at A Year of Reading (will she be making her Peanut Clusters and Graham Cracker Crisps again this year?). Sashay on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week. Happy December and Happy Weekend!
PICK A PINE TREE. Text copyright © 2017 by Patricia Toht. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Jarvis. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.
*Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.