Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, December 18, 2017

Waiting . ..

They stand in rows, silent and unmoving.  As far as the eye can see over acres and acres of land they wait.  Some have been there for only a year or two, others have been there longer.  Their height, at times towering, is evidence of their age.

Whether driving down a two-track dirt road or a little-used, rolling highway, the sight of them brings back years of memories.  There were times when no amount of sawing could straighten a crooked trunk.  A crash in the middle of the night, led, more than once, to a wire extending from the wall to steady a tipsy tree.  Pick a Pine Tree (Candlewick Press, September 19, 2017) written by Patricia Toht with illustrations by Jarvis holds within its pages the special joy of transformation.  It reflects the timeless tradition of finding and adorning an evergreen.

Pick a pine tree
from the lot---
slim and tall
or short and squat. 

Each year people roam through tree lots looking for the pine right in shape, size, length of branches and spacing between branches.  They imagine each one placed in their home.  In their mind's eye they see it sparkling with lights and ornaments.

Once chosen, it is transported to its next resting place.  A space is made for its display and it is firmly secured in a stand, with a few minor adjustments.  To keep it living for as long as possible, it needs a healthy dose of water daily.

Next a storage spot is visited to gather bins and boxes of decorations.  Perhaps others will be invited to help heighten the spirit of Christmas.  The choice of lights is as varied as the people stringing them on the tree.  One year they are multi-colored.  Another year they are all crystal white.  Or is it time for a mix?  Where are those lights that bubble?

Hanging the ornaments is like a visual representation of Christmases past.  They represent wonderful events and beloved people.  Some are homemade.  Some are store-bought, perhaps a collection added to each year.  Extra trimmings make the tree shimmer.  For the finishing touch on top and below something singular is added.  Hardly daring to breathe, one final act completes the Christmas change.

No matter when the tree finds a place in our homes, author Patricia Toht, has with poetic intention brought each portion of the tradition to these pages.  Brimming with bliss each rhyming line builds toward the wondrous result.  The precisely chosen words read like a Christmas carol, singing off the page.  Here is a passage.

But wait . . . (page turn)

don't decorate alone!
Call some people
on the phone.

Ask your friends
to come and stay---

host a 

One of the first things you notice is the red foil ribbon along either side of the spine on the opened dust jacket.  To the left, on the back, the bow is near the bottom for design balance.  The scene of the pine tree landscape extends from flap edge to flap edge. Text on each flap is placed within a scrolled frame fashioned from fine red lines. Children weave among the pines, making snowmen, sledding, ice skating, skiing and snowboarding.  Rabbits, deer, birds and foxes watch. Dogs run and cats ponder.  Careful readers will notice the deer looking quizzically at the Santa snowman.  The book case is identical except for the foil ribbon and text.  It is a bright, cheery red.

The opening and closing endpapers are a cool blue filled with snowflakes of varying sizes. These pages shine with a light all their own.  The verso and title pages bring us close to a deer and two rabbits within the pine forest.  Snow is falling in abundance.

Each page turn reveals a two-page portrait of the progression from the pine tree lot to the stunning vertical depiction of the decorated tree and the final magical Christmas Eve night when an anticipated visitor arrives.  Rendered in

pencil, chalk, and paint and colored digitally

by Jarvis the chill of the out-of-doors and the warmth of family and friends are presented with genuineness in texture and mood.  Readers will pause at each image noting the details.  Strings of lights run throughout the tree lot, families from multiple ethnic backgrounds are featured, tiny birds are perched on a sled (one has the sled rope in its beak), holly and berries already are displayed in the home, a cat pokes its head from the tree branches, an advent calendar in the form of stars loops from the ceiling, and the family dog helps even when not wearing reindeer antlers.  Depending on the narrative, Jarvis may give readers an expanded view or bring us close to the activities.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when friends arrive to help with the tree decorations.  Blue is used to great extent in the scene.  It's snowing and evening has descended.  Light glows from two windows and an open doorway.  Tiny twinkle lights are lit on the outside trees and around the door.  On the left an adult and three children move toward the opened doorway.  One has a sled with a bag on it.  The two family children are smiling and waving to the guests.  Their dog is next to them.  A snowman sits close to the front on the outside pathway.  A tiny bird is perched on a sign reading


The custom of selecting and decorating a pine tree is splendidly realized in this title.  Through the words of Patricia Toht and the art of Jarvis Pick a Pine Tree is sure to become a family and holiday reading tradition.  It will certainly bring to life cherished memories for all readers and listeners.  I can already imagine the stories which will be shared.  You will want to make sure this title finds a place in all your collections.  It's a lovely example of bookmaking and I'm grateful it is now on my personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Patricia Toht and Jarvis and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  At the publisher's website (Candlewick Press) you can view an interior image.  At Penguin Random House you can see the endpapers, verso and title pages, the first full spread and a portion of the next one.  Here is a link to an educator's guide.  Jama Rattigan discusses this title and interviews Patricia Toht at Jama's Alphabet Soup.  Jarvis is interviewed at Medium.  Please enjoy the book trailer.

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