I don’t often review children’s books here on ANZ LitLovers but when The Elf on the Shelf came my way, it was irresistible and I know that some of my readers will be enchanted by it. This is all the more remarkable because the book includes one of my pet hates, that is, that it’s packaged with the toy-that-goes-with-the-book. My instinctive response to this kind of packaging is usually, what’s wrong with kids today that they’re not satisfied with just a book, they have to have a toy as well, eh?
But this one is different.
The premise is simple. As we all know Christmas is not so far away now, and before long Father Christmas will be keeping an eye on children to see if they are behaving themselves. The elf that comes packaged with this book is Santa’s scout, who arrives at the beginning of the Christmas season, and gets adopted by the family. So, just when all the excitement is likely to lead to, a-hem, excitable behaviour – he/she is there to observe what’s going on and report back to The Bearded One each night. Each morning the Elf who sits on the shelf returns from The North Pole, and will be discovered by the children sitting in a slightly different spot. (This could be the hard part, if remembering to do this last-thing-at-night is affected by, -ahem, over-indulgence in Christmas cheer).
Ok, the Elf-as-Spy concept is from an adult PoV rather creepy and the book itself has Little Golden Book values i.e. weak illustrations and forgettable writing. A quick look at some of the reviews on GoodReads shows that more ‘knowing’ children and plenty of adults think so too. But the same reviews are evidence that for children old enough to understand Christmas but young enough not to be cynical about it (a phase of childhood innocence that sadly seems to narrow every year) the Elf itself is an enchantment and they love it.
(Check out this YouTube video to see the excitement for yourself. ).
My reservation about this charming concept is one that derives from the religiosity of America: one of the criteria in the book for Santa’s approval is that the children should say their bedtime prayers. In a secular society like Australia, this might be limit its appeal a bit, and even if you are believer, there is something rather sordid about the idea of praying so that you can collect Christmas loot. I thought that the whole idea of praying was to make you a better person, not a strategy to get what you want. The Australian distributor might consider modifying this line, so that the book is truly inclusive. In the meantime pagans can skip the praying page, and (as you can see from the YouTube clip) anyway the book itself needs not to be resurrected in ensuing years, eh?)
Slick marketing? Yes. But a family tradition that brings a little bit of magic into children’s lives is rather nice, IMO.
Cross-posted at LisaHillSchoolStuff.
Author: Carol V Aebersold and Chanda A Bell
Title: The Elf on the Shelf
Publisher: CCA and B Publishing 2005
Source: Review copy courtesy of publicist Scott Eathorne, Quikmark Media
Fishpond: The Elf on the Shelf Boy Light Doll with Book: A Christmas Tradition
Or see the range at the Book Depository. (The elf comes in inclusive versions: boy/girl and light or dark skin).