Picture Book Snob
Discover a new way to make magic this Christmas
Festival of the Elves by Holly Figgworth (aka Angeli Elliott) and Mai S. Kemble
"The magic around you is the magic you make, it happens when you give more than you take."
When Angeli Elliott’s children were five and four, she wanted to make Christmas as exciting as possible for them. Activities focusing on the naughty list didn’t appeal to Angeli, so she developed a new tradition for her family to celebrate called Festival of the Elves. During the month of December, her children found rhyming notes and treats left for them by elves. These elves came from a fictional realm invented by Angeli and based on the North Pole. Here, kindness is the most powerful force and magic comes from selfless acts and spreading happiness.
The first Festival of the Elves was so popular with Angeli’s children that it became an annual event, and soon their immediate family joined in too. “It’s not about expensive gifts and the activities are simple ways to have fun together. It’s a wonderful way to feel connected to, and show appreciation for, the people who matter the most,” says Angeli.
In 2020, Angeli decided to introduce her family’s tradition to the rest of the world. Angeli wrote and published a picture book called Festival of the Elves: The Magic Around You, under the pseudonym Holly Figgyworth. Beautifully illustrated by Mai S. Kemble, this reveals how the festival originated and is the first in a planned trilogy. An accompanying website (festivaloftheelves.com) was also launched, and so far, nearly 5,000 families from all around the globe have signed up and registered for free elf notes. Roughly 40% of those are in Ireland and the UK, despite Angeli being based in New Jersey, USA. In Festival of the Elves: The Magic Around You, we learn how Grandpa Figgyworth created the festival. He wanted December to be full of surprises and delights for him and his fellow elves. The elves enjoy it so much that they decide to share it with humans, after first visiting the elf council to ask for permission. The elf council allows Holly and Noel to travel to the human world and introduce the festival to the Puddington family. The only caveat is that Holly and Noel use up all their magic to travel there. They will have to rely on the Puddington's ability to make more magic so that they can get home again. Angeli sent us a copy of Festival of the Elves: The Magic Around You and my girls and I are really enjoying it. It has particularly resonated with my six-year-old. She loves the first illustration, with the legs peeping out of the snow and always laughs at it. The map at the start, the elf village and the various items in the Puddington's home also intrigue her. Both girls love the Puddington's dog. The human characters are based on Angeli's own family so I asked if she had a pug too. Angeli explained that illustrator Mai S. Kemble loves this dog breed and always puts one in the books she works on!
What I enjoy most about this book is how it really does capture the excitement of Christmas from a child's perspective. The accompanying festival helps grown-ups to recreate how they felt when they were younger too. We're going to celebrate Festival of the Elves later this month once our decorations are up. I love how you can choose when and how often to take part as I'm not a very organised person and don't like committing to things. I loathe the elf on the shelf and think it does more damage to the magic of Christmas than anything else. My kids will inevitably see these elves for sale, realise the premise is fake, and wonder what else grown-ups are fibbing about. Despite vowing to never have an elf on the shelf in our house, we have unfortunately ended up with one.
My mother inadvertently bought one last year thinking it was a Christmas decoration and when my kids saw it in her house, they took it home. They knew what it was because their teachers had them in their classrooms. As ours a cheap initiation elf from a pound shop, its hat and hair aren't glued on properly and its bald head is a regular sight. This makes him even creepier!
I LOVE that the elves that visit your home as part of Festival of the Elves are invisible. They're far more mysterious and effective because of this. "The magic around you is the magic you make, it happens when you give more than you take," is a wonderful motto and one that is applicable all year round. You can participate in Festival of the Elves without the book, but I'd recommend getting hold of it. Mai S Kemble's intricate illustrations are enchanting, and reading the origin story helps children to understand, and become more familiar with, the elves and their world.
In just over a year since it was introduced, Festival of the Elves has captured global imaginations, generated enormous enthusiasm and attracted a large following on social media. Part of the appeal is how diverse the elves are and how families can choose which ones will leave notes in their homes. “It’s important to be as inclusive as possible so that everyone can see themselves represented. People come in all colours and sizes, and our elves reflect this,” says Angeli.
Although they are now grown up and in college, Angeli still creates a pared-down version for her kids every year. “The great thing about Festival of the Elves is how easy and flexible it is,” according to Angeli, “families can choose to participate for the whole month of December, select one day a week, or just the last few days before Christmas. Even if signing up for the whole month, you only need four trinkets and three treats.”
Trinkets can be small Christmas decorations and treats can be anything at all that your kids enjoy. All the other notes are based on activities. You’ll also need paper, crayons, markers or colouring pencils, access to a printer and string or ribbon to tie around the rolled-up notes. If you’d like to recreate the magic in your own home, you can find the book and register for free elf notes at festivaloftheelves.com.
Festival of the Elves: The Magic Around You is just the first in a planned series - I'm looking forward to the next book already. If you'd like to learn more about Festival of the Elves, and the background to its creation, join me and author Angeli Elliott for a reading and Q&A on Instagram. I'll be hosting my first ever live Instagram event and chatting to Angeli on Wednesday 8th December at 6pm Irish time!
In October, I launched my own copywriting, editing and PR company (Purple Crayon) and organising a virtual tour for Festival of the Elves was one of my first projects. You can see the tour highlights and find out what our reviewers thought about the book here.
Dr Christina McDonnell of charity bookshop Genius Juniors mentioned Festival of the Elves and its inspiring motto when speaking to one of Ireland's most popular radio personalities, Ryan Tubridy (listen here).
You can order a copy of Festival of the Elves from Amazon and festivaloftheelves.com, there's also a list of stockists on the website. Follow @festivaloftheelves on Instagram and Facebook for more information, bonus materials, special offers and giveaways. And don't forget to sign up for free elf notes on festivaloftheelves.com.
The author kindly sent me a gift of this book - all opinions expressed are my own.