[author chat + recipe + giveaway] Pick a Pumpkin by Patricia Toht and Jarvis

Hooray for October — time for gorgeous autumn leaves, hot apple cider, pumpkins and squashes galore, toffee apples, hayrides, costume parties, and Halloween!

We’re so pleased Patty Toht is back to talk about her newest picture book, Pick a Pumpkin (Candlewick, 2019), which like its companion book, Pick a Pine Tree (2017), is illustrated by British artist Jarvis.

Pick a Pumpkin captures all the joy, anticipation, excitement, community spirit, and rustic beauty of the season as a family happily picks and carves pumpkins before going out to trick-or-treat.

There’s nothing like visiting the pumpkin patch on a crisp fall afternoon and finding just the right globular beauty:



Pick a pumpkin
from the patch —

tall and lean
or short and fat.

Vivid orange,
ghostly white,
or speckled green
might be just right.


After enjoying spicy punch and toffee apples, mom and her two kids load their pumpkin stash in their truck and head home, where dad and the baby greet them. They clean and polish their pumpkins, gather the tools they need, and invite some friends over to help them carve.



We follow them through every step, from cutting the pumpkins open, to scooping out seeds and strings, to carving out eyes, noses and mouths. So many different shapes, facial expressions, and pumpkin personalities!

Then it’s time for outdoor decorations:

Cobwebs strung from post to post,
Rings of gauzy dancing ghosts.
Spiders. Tombstones.
Dangling bats.
Skeletons and witches’ hats.

Now that the scene is set, everyone dons their costumes before proudly carrying their pumpkins outside. Then it’s that magical moment when the pumpkins are lit — turning them into spooky jack-o’-lanterns!



Its red-hot eyes
will gaze
and flicker.

Its fiery grin
will blaze and snicker,
to guard your house
while you have fun.


With the neighborhood aglow, mummies, ghosts, witches, skeletons and vampires take to the streets for a howling good time.



Patty’s rhythmic, exuberant text is a joy to read aloud and is packed with vivid sensory details that place the reader smack dab in the middle of all the action.

Lumpy chunks. Sticky strings,
Clumpy seeds. Guts and things.
With a spoon, scrape sides neatly.
Clean the inside out completely.

And how I love Jarvis’s pencil, chalk, paint and digitally colored illustrations! Gorgeous composition and layering resplendent with fall colors and textures. You can just about hear those leaves crunching underfoot, feel the chilly autumn wind on your cheeks, hear the happy chatter of family and friends as they carve pumpkins together.



Just as he did with Pick a Pine Tree, where he included a white cat, this time there’s a winsome black cat for keen eyes to track from spread to spread. Not sure if the cat followed the family home from the pumpkin patch, or if he belonged to them in the first place, but he’s adorable as he balances on fences, plays with the blackbirds, peers out the front window, or sticks his little paw into a bowl of pumpkin “guts.”

I can easily see Pick a Pumpkin becoming a fall classic; it positively glows with fun and goodness!

Now let’s hear from Patty! 🙂






Please share a favorite Halloween memory from your childhood. Do any particular costumes, jack-o’-lanterns, or spooky happenings stand out?

There were no store-bought costumes at our house! Either my mother sewed costumes for my six siblings and me or, as we got older, we made our own costumes. The only problem was that I followed two older sisters, and Mom often made us matching costumes. Thanks to hand-me-downs, I ended up being a clown for years!


Patty’s the clown in the middle.


Now Patty’s the orange clown on the right.


Tell us about taking your own kids to a pumpkin patch every year. What did they and you like best about it? What other special things did you do to celebrate Halloween and Fall?

We visited some terrific pumpkin patches in the Chicago suburbs when my kids were little. At Sonny Acres, they separated their pumpkins by size into huge mounds. My kids loved scrambling over the pumpkin mountains, in search of the perfect pumpkin. Kuipers had a patch that stretched over acres, so we pulled a wagon around, adding pumpkins until it was barely moveable. When we came home, we spread papers and started the carving bonanza!


Kim and Justin


Ruth’s and Will’s pumpkins.


Ruth cleaning her pumpkin.



A fun tradition with friends was a post-trick-or-treat dinner. We either made Halloween-themed food (peeled grapes as eyeballs, cookies shaped as fingers with almond fingernails, etc.), or we ordered pizza. While the kids dumped their treat bags and traded candy, the adults had festive drinks.

When you were last here talking about Pick a Pine Tree, you mentioned how challenging it is to sell rhyming picture books. Since your rhyming texts are brilliant and pitch perfect, could you please tell us about your process and share some tips for writing them?

I work hard on my rhyming. I’ve studied books, attended a Highlights poetry workshop with Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Alice Schertle, and taken classes with Chicago poet Heidi Roemer. The more you learn, the better your poetry will be!

Here are three tips:

  • Make sure your first few stanzas are spot on. They set up the rhythm for the rest of your book. If you stumble at the start, editors often won’t bother to read the rest of your manuscript.
  • Always read your work aloud. Better yet, have someone else read it aloud. Nothing catches rhythm slips and awkward phrasing like hearing someone stumble while reading.
  • Find other rhymers and form a critique group. I’ve been blessed with critique partners who are amazing. They challenge me to make my work better. Two of them have wonderful poetry collections out this fall – Michelle Schaub’s FINDING TREASURE and Eileen Rajala Meyer’s THE SUPERLATIVE A. LINCOLN.



Which rhyming picture books by other authors have been most helpful and inspiring for your own writing?

The rhythm and flow of PICK A PUMPKIN and PICK A PINE TREE were strongly influenced by Alice Schertle’s ALL YOU NEED FOR A SNOWMAN. I love everything that Julia Donaldson has written. Linda Ashman and Mem Fox are two more favorites.

What were some of your thoughts about Jarvis’s illustrations when you first saw the finished book? Did you find any particular details or spreads especially delightful or surprising?

I adore Jarvis’ illustrations! My husband and I laughed that he must’ve had access to our Halloween photos as inspiration. One illustration has a child with a pumpkin over his/her head, and my youngest son used to carve his pumpkin from the bottom so he could put the pumpkin on his head.



Will the Pumpkin Head Boy


I also love that he added an “Easter egg” – our names on buildings in one spread.



Which Fall and/or Halloween picture books were most popular in your bookstore?

THE LITTLE OLD LADY WHO WAS NOT AFRAID OF ANYTHING was a huge hit for storytime. SHAKE DEM HALLOWEEN BONES by W. Nikola-Lisa was one that got everyone up and moving. IN A DARK, DARK ROOM by Alvin Schwartz was just spooky enough for beginning readers.



Is there anything else you’d like us to know about Pick a Pumpkin?

Three of my children are now married, and I dedicated the book to their spouses. One of them, Obie, carved his very first pumpkin with us when he was in his thirties!


Obie (in white) carving his first pumpkin.


What’s next for you?

Two more books will be coming out in 2020-2021. TAXI, GO is a bit of “red light/green light” with a taxi. TOGETHER WITH YOU is a celebration of grandparents and grandchildren, and will also be illustrated by Jarvis. (Lucky me!)

Finally, please share a favorite pumpkin recipe.

I would love to share a recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds, but I am an utter failure at making them! Every year I try, and every year I fail…

Instead, here’s a recipe for Skeleton Finger Cookies (adapted from my favorite Mexican wedding cookies).


Skeleton Finger Cookies

  • Servings: about 3 dozen
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print


  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • red gel frosting
  • almond slivers


In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add vanilla and water and mix well.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour and walnuts. Add to butter mixture and mix until combined.

Chill for 2-3 hours.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Shape dough into rough, finger-sized logs. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until just barely golden. Let cool on cookie sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.

When cookies are cool, roll in powdered sugar. On one tip, brush off a bit of powdered sugar and squeeze on a dollop of the red gel frosting. Add an almond sliver “fingernail.” If not serving immediately, store in an airtight container.

~ from Patricia Toht, author of Pick a Pumpkin (Candlewick, 2019), as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.



Thanks for visiting and sharing the wonderful photos and recipe, Patty!




written by Patricia Toht
illustrated by Jarvis
published by Candlewick Press, July 2019
Picture Book for ages 3-7, 40 pp.
**Starred Review**  from Booklist

♥ In case you missed it, check out my interview with Patty about Pick a Pine Tree . 🙂




The publisher is generously donating a copy for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, simply leave a comment at this post telling us what you like best about Fall, no later than midnight (EST) Wednesday, October 9, 2019. You may also enter by sending an email with PUMPKIN in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com.  Giveaway open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only, please. Good Luck!




It was so much fun reading about all the different things you blog readers collect! I think one thing we all have in common is that we all collect books :).

I also think I missed my calling as a museum curator. I’ve always been fascinated by the physical objects people throughout history have made, manufactured, lived with, preserved, and enjoyed.

M. Random Integer Generator (a champion collector of numbers), was only too pleased to pick the winner for this wonderful book, and it is:



This is what Stephanie collects:

My collection is/was children’s books (surprise!). When we moved a couple years ago, I called a children’s librarian and said, “If you come right this minute, I have something for you.” We loaded the collection into her car. My deep sadness at bidding them goodbye was quickly replaced with happiness knowing they would be with children — where they were always intended to be. Since then I’ve ‘captured’ many more wonderful books and will be releasing them to another library in the future.

Cool, no?

Thanks, everyone, for entering this giveaway!




Cheriee Weichel is hosting the Roundup at Library Matters, where she is featuring an in-depth introduction to Vancouver poet Robert Heidbreder. Zoom over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served around the blogosphere this week. Happy Weekend!




This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!

*Interior spreads text copyright © 2019 Patricia Toht, illustrations © 2019 Jarvis, published by Candlewick Press. All rights reserved.

**Copyright © 2019 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

37 thoughts on “[author chat + recipe + giveaway] Pick a Pumpkin by Patricia Toht and Jarvis

  1. Jama, what a fun book and author to highlight. I love that Patricia’s critique group is so tight and so successful. What an amazing group of people to work with. You have sprinkled your post with joy and love. Wonderful interview questions….and the photos show such classic scenes! Thank you for introducing me to this book in this way. I’m not sure I’ll make that recipe….maybe one of my teens will.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh what fun! I’m not usually a big fan of fall, but we just went out for a glorious walk in the sunshine & saw that the leaves are indeed changing color already. Gorgeous! Thanks for the glimpse of this celebratory book, the stories behind it, & the rhyming tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It is a delightful book & don’t put me into the drawing as I already have it, Jama. The girls & I just read it Wednesday. Their family has a pumpkin-carving contest every year, so it was a wonderful book to read about the choosing and the carving! I love hearing all about Patricia’s family & seeing the pictures, reading her writing advice, & those ‘finger bone’ cookies. Thanks for a good and spooky post! (My favorite thing about fall — the leaves. I can’t stop saving them!)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jama, I am riding through New York State en route to a birthday party for my 91-year-old uncle and am immersed in fall colors. It is a wondrous backdrop for a stroll through Patty Toht’s book with you. I enjoyed her rhyming scheme that is delightful and think a read aloud with expressive intonation would make the story pop with excitement for youngsters. The way you blended old photos with pages form the book adds to the fun of a pumpkin picking experience. The best photo / illustration combo was Will the Pumpkin Head Boy and Jarvis’ similar image. Thanks so much for bringing a great book to my attention. I think my granddaughter would enjoy this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lucky you to see some fall colors this weekend! Yes, this book just happens to be the perfect book to read en route to your uncle’s birthday party (Happy Birthday to him!). The pumpkin head photo was just the best, I agree. 🙂


  5. I actually won the copy of Pick a Pine Tree! Thanks, Patty and of course, Jama. The best thing I love about Fall are the cool refreshing breezes wiping away the humidity and heat of summer. By the way, my dad used to roast pumpkin seeds. They were delish. He would rinse them sprinkle olive oil and salt on them and roast them on the aluminum pizza pan. Pumpkin seeds Italiano style!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds like a simple and delicious way to enjoy pumpkin seeds, Joanne. I had forgotten that you won a copy of Pick a Pine Tree. Now you need this companion book to make your life complete. 🙂


  6. What creepy cookies! Bring on the pumpkins!!!This looks like such a sweet book! I am a pumpkin fan, and autumn is my favorite season! Now we just need some real fall temperatures! I was in Richmond on Wednesday and it was 98 degrees–so wrong for October (or anytime really). Not a fan of heat & humidity!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This book sent me spinning back into pumpkin-carving memories from my own childhood and then into memories of Halloween antics with my children. The rhyme is so natural and lively. I especially like those “rings of gauzy dancing ghosts.” Your post has inspired me to head back to my notebook and dip into some pumpkin memories–thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Jama,
    What a delightful looking book. I love the rhyming verses. This will make a perfect gift for my 3 year old grandson. I love all your reviews. You introduce me to such quality children’s books.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. So so so so much to love here. The illustrations, the delightful story, the love of fall. How fun to carve your first pumpkin as an adult. It’s a great tradition to pick up. Those finger cookies . . . creeeeeeepy (in a yummy way). As for what I love about fall? Is it a cheat to say *everything*? Blue skies, crisp air, orange leaves, apples, pumpkins–I can’t name a favorite.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jama, you always have the best book reviews. The Fall is a wonderful time of year, with the changing colours and celebrations. I collect Halloween books, so I will have to add this to my list of books to look for, in addition to Pick a Pine Tree. Thank you for introducing us to so many wonderful authors, poets and illustrators.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi dear Jama.
    I am a fan of this book & Patty, too. I love learning that her son-in-law enjoyed his 1st pumpkin carving at her house. Never too late to introduce anyone to the October stringy sport. This is a superlative visit & I discovered much fun stuff I didn’t know, even though I interviewed Patty at Bookseedstudio for P-A-P, too. I love this photo of her son’s head, inside his real pumpkin! I think Jarvis did take inspiration from her family & rightly so. You bring us so much of holiday joy, always Jama.
    I bought her book so please exempt me from the selection. Wish the little ones in our family were trick-or-treating at your & Patty’s doors 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s wonderful that Patty’s son-in-law finally got to carve a pumpkin! I enjoyed all of her family pics — adorable kids. 🙂


  12. What a delightful interview! thank you for sharing Patty’s wisdom and her new book. Now I want to go back to visit our favorite pumpkin extravaganza. One of the farm families in the county I moved from carves hundreds of pumpkins (friends and family carve for days to create them) with elaborate designs and display them all lit up the weekends before Halloween It is well worth the drive way out in the country to see it.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thanks for this delightful interview with Patricia and sharing her new Halloween book! I loved hearing about her writing/rhyming influences and family background. And oh how I like your banner art at the top from “Pumpkin Island,” I’ve had the book out of the library for way too long, lovely post Jama! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thanks again for your post, Jama! You’re a terrific interviewer, and I love reading the comments of those who have stopped by. I think we’re all in agreement that autumn is amazing! 🍁🍁🍁

    Liked by 1 person

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