[author chat + recipe + giveaway] Patricia Toht on Pick a Pine Tree

Please help yourself to milk and cookies (photo by P. Toht)

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.

Art © 2017 Jarvis

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. 🙂



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.

Patty, age 3 (in plaid dress) with her siblings.

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.

Patty’s four children

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.

Christmas in London

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…)

Rare snow at Windsor Castle (Queen Victoria looking plucky in her white crown and mantle)

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.

Toilet paper tube snowman has a stand-off with the Christmas tree angel for control of the ceiling.

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

  • Servings: about 4 dozen cookies
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print


  • 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.



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:



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!



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!


Art © 2017 Jarvis

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.

60 thoughts on “[author chat + recipe + giveaway] Patricia Toht on Pick a Pine Tree

  1. Congratulations, Patricia, on such a lovely book! There has been a misconception for many years that editors don’t like rhyming books. But like you mentioned, it’s bad rhyme that they steer away from. There is nothing bad about your rhymes! Beautifully done!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brava! Patty. I am so excited for the staying power of this poem story.
    And as a reader in a Title 1 school, I appreciate that the family is multi-faceted in cultural background. Jama, this post is an enticing introduction to Patty, to the Christmas season & family traditions.
    My dear Dad took me outdoors to tree-pick back in the day & my hubby & I did the same with our gal for all those child years. Sigh. Sweet feelings with this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What an adorable book and trailer. Congratulations, Patricia! I loved seeing your family pictures and finding out more about your process. As always, Jama, your interviews and posts are chock full of good things (furry and otherwise). That recipe looks wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a “must have” book for my granddaughters! I love picture books about winter and Christmas. Ali especially loves books in verse.

    Great trailer!

    Congratulations, Patricia, this book looks like it will be a sure hit with kids!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your granddaughters will love this one, Elaine. It will easily become a favorite to read every year when it’s time to decorate the tree.


  5. I used to get a fresh Christmas tree every year because it smelled so good. I’ve collected Christmas ornaments for years—I like the folk art type. I also prefer colored lights to white ones, unlike a lot of my kith and kin. Turn on the soundtrack of Christmas music, add some favorite Christmas books (one is Rumor Godden’s The Story of Holly and Ivy), and I’m all set! Thanks, Patty and Jama. Great concept, and I’m looking forward to Pick a Pumpkin, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love The Story of Holly and Ivy, too, Kate! Barbara Cooney did the illustrations in that book as well as in The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree. Her illustrations speak directly to my heart.


    2. I collect folk art ornaments too — anything handmade is a favorite. I’m a fan of both colored and white lights. You’ve reminded me that it’s time to dig out the holiday music CDs. 🙂


  6. Don’t put me in the drawing, Jama. I have Patricia’s wonderful book and am about to share it next week! Holding onto special Christmas traditions is something to celebrate which the book does. I loved seeing how Patricia includes so many parts of the holiday. I have that spritz maker too, maybe time to get it out for the girls. We’ve usually stuck to cookie cutter cookies! Thanks for a grand December 1st post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so happy that you’ll be sharing the book next week, Linda! Enjoy your cookie baking, too – I make nearly as many gingerbread cookies as I make spritz ones. YUM!


    2. Looking forward to your review, Linda. I think your granddaughters would enjoy the cookie press — I was fascinated when I first saw my aunt using it.


  7. I love the descriptions of yours and Patty’s Christmases, Jama. This looks like the perfect holiday book for young and old (me!). And I’ll have to try the spritz cookie recipe, too – it’s time to change mine up this year.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is just a wonderful post about Christmases past and present. I’ve always wanted to spend Christmas in England with my relatives that still live there, and now I want to even more. And I can’t wait to read Pick a Pine Tree, sitting next to me, patiently waiting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you have a chance to have your Christmas in England. It’s interesting to see which traditions are the same and which are different. My youngest thought pouring flaming brandy over the pudding was the coolest thing ever. “We should ALWAYS light dessert on fire!” was his reaction. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow, spritz cookies take such dedication!! What a lovely book and a lovely layout, Jama – this was just so gorgeous and old-fashioned holiday feeling that I’m actually getting slightly less Bah Humbug! SLIGHTLY, mind you. And I love the alliteration of pick-a-pine-tree. I can imagine being a kid and practically reciting this book, after reading it nine million times. Sounds like a classic to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I explained the alliteration in the title to a group of school kids just the other day! I told them that Pick a Pine Tree has been translated into both French and Italian. Poet Renee LaTulippe, who speaks Italian, told me the title alliteration is completely lost in translation. I guess it translates to something like “Select the Tree Most Beautiful”! 😀


    2. Good to hear you’re SLIGHTLY less bah humbug now. I used to think one had to do everything for the holidays, and do it perfectly. Now I just do what I feel like doing and find I enjoy the holidays more. This book does have a classic feel to it.


  10. I would agree that the spritz cookies do in fact take such dedication, and this was a book that one of my children picked out a while ago to read from his school library. I think that it is really neat that you can meet all of these authors. Where I live we do not get many authors to come out and visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For me, there’s something very zen about spritz cookies. Maybe it’s the rhythm of all that twisting? So happy to hear that your kids found Pick a Pine Tree in the library!


      1. I had that same spritz cookie maker Patricia! It was upgraded to the OXO with squeeze handle as a gift one year. WOW! Although I was skeptical that the cookies would be as perfect and yummy from a newfangled cookie gun – they were fantastic and it was SO easy! I made a few extra batches as a result! Congrats on PINE TREE and look forward to PUMPKIN!


    2. One of the best parts of blogging is “meeting” authors and illustrators via interviews. No travel needed. I sense I would be too shy to speak with some of them in person. Nice to hear your son found this book in the library!


  11. I just read about another one of Patricia’s books on Irene’s post! What a talented lady! I enjoyed the poem and I think I am going try the cookie recipe this Christmas–I have never had much luck with cookie presses, but this looks do-able! 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my gosh, Becky – thank you for alerting me that Irene featured All Aboard the London Bus on her blog! I hadn’t seen that yet. Good luck with the cookie press. My first cookie messes up EVERY SINGLE TIME, but then the rest seem to work.


  12. Adorable book and cute cookies! I haven’t made spritz cookies before, but that gadget looks like a lot of fun. Jama, I like to picture you stringing garlands with your folks. Sweet memory!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Our lei making skills came in handy. They enjoyed using cranberries and popcorn for a change — something we never did for the few live trees we had.


  13. I think I still have my spritz cookie maker. I should dig it out and pass it along to the younger generation. Made with real butter, the cookies are to die for. Thanks Jama and Patricia for starting the month off with joy!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. WOW! I didn’t know about this gorgeous new holiday book – Patricia, congratulations – this has “classic” swirling all around it. I love the backstory bits and family pix, too. And that trailer – beautiful! These illustrations have the perfect blend of retro/nostalgic and FRESH. Thanks for sharing, Jama – and bears, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. What a wonderful post and interview. I’ve been running at break-neck speed all fall, and December has snuck up on me. This was such a lovely entrance into the season. I was at a library conference recently, and an elementary librarian was standing next to me in line to buy books. She said, “I just can never have enough holiday books”. I’m so glad that Pick a Pine Tree was one of her choices and her students now have some good rhyme to live by. Many congrats on the book. And, I look forward to Pick a Pumpkin.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. So many memories are awakened with this post! Look at all that tinsel!! A special ornament each Christmas! Cookies from a press! Timely, too, since we are going to be getting our first tree in several years this coming weekend. I can’t wait for that wonderful smell…

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I’ve got to read this one. It looks perfect. I loved the story about the tree and the green army men found by the mower in the spring. And the girls in red dresses are adorable. Such a wonderful post. And thanks for the book, Jama!!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I enjoyed everything about this post, Jama. I loved the interview with Patricia, the trailer, and the recipe. Congratulations to Patricia on her lovely book. I want to read it!


Comments are closed.