- Johnny Mathis crooning The Christmas Song
- My mom’s Russian Tea Cake cookies
- The lumpy Santa’s face pillow that’s been propped atop my parents’ sofa every December as far back as I can remember.
Those things are guaranteed to put me into a mellow Christmas mood. This year, I’m excited to add something new to that list. Patricia Toht’s new release, Pick a Pine Tree (Candlewick, illus by Jarvis).
I was lucky enough to see the (pretty much finished) manuscript for Pick a Pine Tree when Patty attended my (and friend Linda Skeers’) summer picture book workshop. Reading it gave me yikes-this-is-good goosebumps. So when I learned it had finally been published, I was more excited than your average picture book nut. And I wasn’t disappointed. This one feels like a classic in the making. Just look at this cover.
All wrapped up with a bow and everything! Picking one thing to like best about this one is difficult, but, since I’m a sucker for rhyming excellence, I’ll have to choose that. Read this opening aloud…
Pick a pine tree
from the lot––
slim and tall
or short and squat.
One with spiky needle clumps,
scaly bark, or sappy bumps.
Can’t read it wrong, can you? And, when it comes to writing in rhyme, that’s HUGE. Lucky readers/listeners follow along as a cheerful family picks their tree and transports it home, where lots more kiddos show up to join in on a festive decorating party. What goes on the tree?
Candy canes and
bright glass balls.
Illustrator Jarvis made the most of every detail Patty gave him to work with, and I don’t know how anybody could read this book aloud and not be made merry.
Author Patricia Toht was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
JE: Patty, Pick a Pine Tree comes close on the heels of your first picture book, All Aboard the London Bus, published in May. Could you tell us about your journey to publication?
PT: It has taken me a VERY long time to get published! Originally, I was on the selling side of children’s books; I owned a children’s bookstore, Never Never Land, for seven years. But when a mall opened nearby with three book superstores, my little shop didn’t stand a chance and we eventually closed our doors. Shortly after that, I signed up for a class in writing for children. I received good feedback and my teacher encouraged me to keep working and start submitting. The first piece I published was a story in Spider Magazine. Shortly after that, a picture book manuscript went through several rounds of editing at a major house, but didn’t make it to contract. Unfortunately, it was just at that point that the picture book market took a nose dive. In fact, the New York Times ran an article, “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children,” and the Washington Post wondered if “The Picture Book Is Dead.”
I kept writing, focusing more on craft than submission. Eventually, I had poems that were accepted by magazines, but picture books eluded me. Then two wonderful things happened. First, our family moved to England. Away from many of the responsibilities I had Stateside, I had lots of time to write, and went through a very productive period. The second thing that happened was that the picture book market came back to life again! I met an agent at an SCBWI conference in England who agreed to take me on, and Pick a Pine Tree and its companion book, Pick a Pumpkin, were the first manuscripts we sold.
JE: What was the inspiration behind Pick a Pine Tree? How did you settle on a rhyming format? Was it difficult finding the rhythm you wanted to use, or did that feel natural?
PT: The initial inspiration for Pick a Pine Tree came from poet Alice Schertle’s books, All You Need For a Beach and All You Need For a Snowman. I adored the rhythms and simplicity of those books, and I thought I’d take a shot at a rhyming “how to” book.
The rhythm came quite easily. But my original manuscript was a bit looser, with several points of enjambment, which stop you short in the rhythm. My editor didn’t care for that, and I went through several rounds of edits before we settled on the right rhyme and rhythm.
JE: The ART!!! The outdoor scenes practically glitter with snowfall, and the indoor scenes with their golden hues… lovely! The book has a cozy, 50s feel, at least to me. Did you have any say along the way?
PT: The art is BRILLIANT! My British editor at Walker Children’s Books (sister-publisher to Candlewick) asked me for ideas about illustrators, but my suggestions were all over the place. I was absolutely no help. Walker and Candlewick editors discussed Illustrators and, lucky for me, they decided upon Jarvis. I love his illustrations! They are so warm and lovely. I think my favorite might just be the “Host a decorating day” spread with the light shining out of the open door. It’s magical! Jarvis also made a wonderful trailer for the book. He will also be illustrating Pick A Pumpkin which will be published in July, 2019. I can’t wait!
JE: I’ll be watching for it!
Meanwhile, readers, you can WIN your very own copy of Pick a Pine Tree. All you have to do is leave a comment below by December 1st. Good luck to all!
Winners of my FRANKENBUNNY giveaway: Angie Quantrell and Angela Turner. Congrats, ladies, and thanks for entering! Everybody else: keep trying. Your odds are good here. 🙂
Also, my apologies that our loyal and beloved subscribers received two notifications for this post. My fault entirely. I was FRANTICALLY trying to figure out how to cancel that first one, believe me, after tripping the feed by accidentally setting the timer for Oct rather than Nov. Picture Lucy and Ethel and a conveyor belt of speeding chocolates. Sorry, sorry, sorry.