Afternoon of the Elves, Janet Taylor Lisle

Synopsis: Sara-Kate Connolly is a strange girl. She was held back a year in fifth grade, wears awful work boots, and kind of flits around. She invites Hillary, a fourth grader and her backyard-neighbor over to her house to see the elf village.  This is met with no qualms on Hillary’s part, but her mom and her friends are not fans. First off, from mom’s standpoint, the Connolly’s yard is trashy and she’ll get poison ivy. Secondly, from the friend’s point of view, Sara-Kate is trash and ugh, just not cool. But Hillary is intrigued by the elves. She continues being friendly.

Sara-Kate is strange, and even Hillary can’t help but notice that she runs all sorts of errands that she shouldn’t be running, like paying the phone bill and grocery shopping. Her mom is sick, she explains simply.  The elf village continues to grow, including a ferris wheel (bike wheel “re-purposed”).  Sara-Kate isn’t worried about winter for the elves, because they have thick skin and stay warm. She also has thick skin, she claims.

Hillary worries about Sara-Kate when she doesn’t see her at school for three days running. Although she’s never been let into the run-down house, she peeks in, and ends up running into an angry Sara-Kate. She could have sworn there were elves upstairs, but they tricked her. Sara-Kate threatens her and Hillary runs out. Hillary wonders if Sara-Kate is an elf.

Hillary goes back to the way things were before she and Sara-Kate were friends, hanging out with her “way cooler” friends, making her mom happy. But she can’t help but think of the night she saw Sara-Kate.  Sara-Kate seems to have disappeared, but Hillary’s dad swears he saw her late one night running around (he almost ran her over because she was in the street) and he couldn’t believe how fast she was.  One night, she looks for light in the Connolly house, and she sees a dark shadow stepping out. It’s Sara-Kate, who is happy to see Hillary after such a long time. The ferris wheel turns. Sara-Kate invites Hillary back the next day…. which is a snow day YAY!!!! Sara-Kate confesses that she’s run out of money and food, and asks Hillary to buy her some food.  Hillary steals $10 from her mom’s purse and heads downtown.  She goes inside with permission this time.

Hillary eats lunch with Sara-Kate, which is quite the experience, and she talks to Sara about life in general and how come she does all that she does.  (Basically, Mrs. Connolly is sick in the head but if she were “taken care of” where would they go?) Hillary’s mom gets worried because they’ve been gone for too long, and calls for her. Hillary doesn’t get out of the house in time, and Hillary’s mom comes in. She’s disturbed at the sight of the house, and she goes to see Sara-Kate’s mom, and she offers to help.

After that, many rumors fly about what happened to the Connollys. Bottom line, they’re gone, the house is being renovated. Hillary worries about the elf village. She decides to move it to her yard to protect it.

Bookworm’s Commentary:

  • I remember reading this as a kid, and I remember enjoying it. I feel like I understood it better then than I do now. Strange, right? But it’s the truth. I have no idea what this book is about.  I know it’s about a scared little girl in a horrible situation, and one of the friends that gets wrapped into her world. But I’m sure I was convinced she was an elf when I was a child. It’s what the book implies, no doubt. There’s a certain magic and mystery to the book that fascinates me.
  • I feel like Sara-Kate is so much more. She’s special. She looks rough-and-tumble because she IS rough-and-tumble. She’s taking care of her mother and herself, and while many kids do this, it’s always heart-breaking. Are the elves a reassurance that she’s more than what she seems, or are the elves an escape, or is she one of them?  It’s always the kids that we expect nothing out of that have to go through the most.
  • Hillary is special simply because she sees that Sara-Kate is more than what the world has made her out to be. She’s receptive to the magic of the backyard. She doesn’t really judge her, but she does note the differences in how they were raised (she eats daintily for example while Sara-Kate wolfs down lunch).
  • Something was obviously going on in that house. I’m amazed Hillary’s mother didn’t do something earlier. Seriously, all they ever did was make fun of the yard and idea of elves until it was beyond time to help. Then again, I ignore my shady neighbors as much as possible too.

Class Stuff:
Grades: 3-5. It’s a short read, pretty magical, and because the characters are in fourth and fifth grade, the magic/reality meld won’t be lost on these kids.  It’s magical enough to get them hooked, but real enough for them to realize there are some major issues in Sara-Kate’s life.
Grade: B+
It won a Newbery Honor. I know I liked it as a kid. As an adult, I don’t grasp it as well. I don’t know the extent of all of Sara-Kate’s problems, but I know her life isn’t as magical as we want it to be.  As a kid, I’d probably not analyze it as much. There’s probably something to growing up that makes it more foggy than before…

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Filed under Fantasy, Upper elementary

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