Let’s Go Pick a Pine Tree (or put on your lucky elf hat and maybe you’ll win one)!

  1. Johnny Mathis crooning The Christmas Song
  2. My mom’s Russian Tea Cake cookies
  3. 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?

Jolly Santas.

Dancing elves.

Wooden reindeer.

Jingle bells.

Lacy snowflakes.

Paper dolls.

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!

Readers, you can learn more about Patty on her website, here. And don’t miss the book’s very cool trailer.


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.

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Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum has been picture book crazy since her 3 kids were little, and especially so after her first was published in 2004 (Stink Soup). Recent titles: Stinkbird Has a Superpower, Jack Knight's Brave Flight, Where'd My Jo Go?, Frog Boots, How to Grow a Dinosaur, Frankenbunny, If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party, Elwood Bigfoot– Wanted: Birdie Friends!, Teeny Tiny Toady, I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!, and more. Coming in 2024: Parrotfish Has a Superpower and Bird Girl: Gene Stratton-Porter Shares Her Love of Nature with the World. She's also the author of many nonfiction books for young readers, as well as an early graphic reader series, Thunder & Cluck. Learn more at http://jillesbaum.com.


  1. This sounds like such a wonderful book about tradition! Excited to hear there is a companion book!

  2. This book sounds awesome. I love Christmas so I love Christmas picture books! Congrats!!!!!

  3. Thanks for sharing your publishing journey. I purchased your London Bus book and absolutely love it, having traveled to London quite a bit. I hope it gets in all the souvenir shops (the nicer ones, like by Tower Bridge). Can’t wait to read your new one!

    • Oh, I’m so happy to hear that ALL ABOARD THE LONDON BUS reminds you of your London visits. I miss living there! I agree that the gift shop by Tower Bridge is a lovely one – and you certainly can’t beat those views! I hope you like PICK A PINE TREE as well.

  4. Patricia, you certainly are having a great year. Congratulations. This book looks terrific.

  5. This book is adorable! And I love hearing authors’ stories about the road to publication. Thanks and congratulations!

  6. This looks like a beautiful addition to the treasure trove that is Christmas picture books. So glad you rolled with the ups and downs of the publishing business to get this published!

    • Thank you, Laura! There were a few times along the way when I was ready to just throw in the towel, but my brain kept on writing, despite my grumpy moods. What’s the saying? Writing isn’t for the faint at heart?

  7. I can’t wait to get my hands on Pick a Pine Tree! I agree about the art work, it definitely has a vintage ‘50’s feel.

  8. The title alone makes me reminiscence about Christmas as a kid! Can’t wait to read this story that will surely bring back all the fun memories of picking out and decorating the family Christmas tree!

  9. This is so cute! Thanks as always for sharing.

  10. LET’S GO PICK A PINE TREE is a delightful book. Everything about it, from the story, to the rhyming pattern, and lovely illustrations by Jarvis. I love Patty Toht’s book.

    All the best to you Patty.

  11. The snippets of the book are great but I love the trailer and what you could show us in 29 seconds, well done!! thank you.

  12. I’m always looking for a new Christmas picture book to add to my shelf of classics. This looks like a winner!

  13. Just reading parts of the book with its wonderful illustrations puts me in a festive mood! Congrats!

  14. This looks fantastic…thanks for sharing!

    ps…Jill, your description of you trying to cancel sending out the post early is perfection! Ha!

  15. Kathleen Mazurowski

    Sounds delightful and perfect for my Christmas book giving list!

  16. I was already excited for this book, but I’m even more excited now. It looks magical. Congrats Patricia!

  17. I love this book! The rhyme, the scenes, the details, the artwork, the JOY of picking the perfect tree — every aspect of it works together beautifully! Santa should bring everyone a copy!

    • Linda, you and Jill were part of the groundwork for this book, and I’m grateful. I received such wonderful advice and support at your Iowa workshop, and that helped to make this book as special as it is. Thank you!

  18. This book looks fantabulous! PLEASE pick me! Pick me!

  19. What a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing your road to publishing with us.

  20. This is so lovely. Congrats, Patty!

  21. Loverhyming books. This sounds wonderful!

  22. Wonderful interview. Pick a Pine sounds adorable! Thank you for sharing it.

  23. This looks like the perfect book for this time of year in Minnesota!

  24. Pat’s book is wonderful! And such a beautiful cover.

  25. This is fun rhyming text to read out loud. The art is so warm and inviting. Makes me want to decorate my tree now.

  26. This looks adorable! And those illustrations-lovely. I am sucker for a tree book. 🙂 Congratulations. Thank you for sharing your publishing journey.

  27. I am such a fan of Candlewick Press! I love the idea of this book! Thank you for sharing it with us!

  28. I got to leaf through a copy at the Nelson Art Gallery gift shop in Kansas City last week and was so taken by the total book experience — the rhyme, vocabulary, and illustrations. And that cover! This one may have to go under the tree for ME.

    • That’s cool, Sue! I’m always curious about which shops carry which books, and I love that PICK A PINE TREE is in an art gallery. I hope you have a nice square package under the tree this year. 😉

  29. What a great coffee table read for the upcoming holidays! I sure enjoyed it!

  30. Looks lovely! Thanks for persisting!

  31. This looks absolutely lovely – just requested it from the library. Congrats on your perseverance and success!

  32. I love this book – especially since I have seen it from the earliest days as one of your writing critique buddies! It is my new holiday classic gift — it really is the perfect gift for any holiday hostesses to supplement their own (children’s or grandparent’s) libraries. In the midst of the holiday whirl – everyone needs to pause and read a good book to a little friend. And this is it! Congrats!!!

  33. Pick a Pine Tree will be a classic. Can’t wait to read the entire book.

  34. Can’t wait to read it. Poems and pine trees, two of my most favorite things.
    Thanks for the backstory, always inspiring.

  35. I love Christmas, the smell of fresh cits trees, and the sheer jou of picking your own tree from a farm! Can’t wait to read this one and explore the rhyme! Congrats Patricia on a beautiful book. Yeah Jill, fun to see books from Whispering Woods alumni. Here’s toast more.

  36. This looks like a really sweet Christmas book – can’t wait to read it!

  37. One can never have enough great books for the holidays!

  38. I love the bouncy rhymes!

  39. What a beautifull journey! Would be nice to add to class library.

  40. The cover makes me want to open the book, and the sneak peeks you gave just sold me on it. It really does look like an “evergreen” book!

  41. I can’t wait to pick Pines trees and pumpkins! Good luck with these!

  42. Thanks for your post! It’s an informative and inspiring interview!

  43. I just love this book! Congratulations!!!

  44. The rhymes you quoted sound fantastic— can’t wait to read/see the whole thing! Thanks, Jill!

  45. This wonderful seasonal rhyming book would grace any coffee table! So, thank you to Jill who put rhymes in my day. I hope that I win. If I don’t it’s okay!

  46. Haha. This made me smile, Mary! 🙂

  47. I’ve read this lovely book! It’s awesome! Congrats Patty!

  48. I love the concept and the rhyme is fun, fun, fun! If I don’t win, I will definitely be buying!

  49. I can’t wait to read this book! I’ve been looking for a copy but haven’t found it yet. Looks wonderful! Thanks for the great interview! 🙂

    I also just read that I won a copy of Frankenbunny! Yay! I hope I didn’t miss an email about this. I just noticed that something has been going on with my email and many of my favorite blogs and emails have been going right to junk! Ugh. Trying to fix the problem…Thank you!

  50. Ooh! Thanks for sharing, ladies.

    Yesterday, it was 75 degrees in Oklahoma, but reading THIS has helped put me in the holiday spirit.

  51. It looks like an adorable book. I can’t wait to read it. Pick a Pumpkin sounds like so much fun as well.

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