The author wields a stimulating vocabulary, enriching the theatrics of the siblings’ adventures. Readers will especially enjoy reading aloud the tongue twisters and fun rhymes that pepper the tale. The plot, suffused with traditional values and holiday pursuits, nevertheless incorporates fresh elements as Holly and Noel endeavor to establish new Christmas traditions. As an amusing extra, Elliott and Kemble provide a comprehensive map depicting the topography of the North Pole in the beginning. Here, Kemble’s snow-dusted spread accompanies the giggles Elliott begets with her nomenclature of places in the North Pole, such as, “Festival Forest,” “Sugar Plum Ridge,” “Hooray Bay,” and “Jolly Point.”
This expertly crafted and wondrously imagined Christmas story delightfully captures the seasonal atmosphere through the eyes of an adventuresome and enterprising sibling duo. Elliott’s voice is admirably seasoned and confident, while Kemble’s intricately detailed and pleasingly composed paintings give an unhurried and winsome quality to Holly and Noel’s world. Together, they create a thoroughly immersive reading experience for their young readers, who will keep coming back to the story for its ability to incite curiosity, wonderment, and warmth.
Takeaway: This festive picture book, replete with seasonal cheer and whimsical sibling adventures, is a perfect Christmas read.
Great for fans of: Patricia Toht and Jarvis’s Pick a Pine Tree, Nicola Killen’s The Little Reindeer, Matt Tavares’s Red and Lulu.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: A-
In Elliott and Kemble’s beautifully illustrated Christmas title, designed for family reading, two elves start a new holiday tradition.
At the North Pole, Grandpa Norris Figgyworth launches the first Festival of the Elves. Every night in December, Grandpa Figgyworth leaves notes and trinkets for special elves in his life. Inspired by the festival, which helps spread magic, Grandpa Figgyworth’s grandchildren, Holly and Noel, decide to take the new tradition to a human home. The trip depletes all of their magic. But soon, as they share their kindness with a human family and the family shares the tradition with others, the elves’ magic grows! For 24 days, Holly and Noel leave different types of notes, based on the day of the week, to help the happy family celebrate. The conflict here isn’t about saving Christmas (which is never directly mentioned) but about building enough magic from kindness to get the elves home—a refreshing change from other holiday books. Kemble, who previously illustrated Enchanted Reindeer Treats (2012), offers detailed, Mary Engelbreit–like illustrations, with intricate backgrounds and a multihued cast of elves. The elves’ Victorian garb contrasts with the modern clothing of the human family. Holly Figgyworth’s voice as narrator is determinedly cheerful, with an accessible vocabulary for strong independent readers. Several notes left by the elves feature rhyming poetry, which scans well.
Families looking for additional holiday traditions may enjoy sharing this—and re-creating the activity—together.
What to expect: Holiday Adventure, Christmas, Giving
The holiday season is full of traditions, but have you heard of the Festival of the Elves? It’s a welcome new Christmas custom that is as charming as the picture book that explains it!
Grandpa Norris Figgyworth always wanted the holiday season to be full of surprises and delights. This joy has spread to his grandchildren, Holly and Noel. Every night in December, their Grandpa would leave little notes and trinkets for friends, family, and neighbors. On a “twinkly, swirly, snowy night,” the sweet pair of elf siblings set out on an adventure to share their Grandpa’s secret note tradition with humans. The elf city council is worried that they will use all of their magic on their journey and won’t be able to return to the North Pole. However, when the young elves begin sharing notes with the Puddington family, joy spreads and the magic follows.
Debut author Angeli Elliott, who wrote the book under the pen name of Holly Figgyworth, has delightfully and thoughtfully captured the magic of Christmas by highlighting the spirit of giving. “The magic around you is the magic you make. It happens when you give more than you take.” Lovingly constructed, young readers will not lose the message of this generational tale. There are playful elements found within the story that readers can interact with, such as Christmassy tongue twisters.
Illustrator Mai S. Kemble brings the story further to life by filling the pages with detailed paintings that show the kind of joy and delight that Grandpa Figgyworth would champion. Festive endpapers, an enchanting and detailed map of the North Pole, a diverse cast of elves, stippled spots of snow and magical dust spread across the pages to create a just-right magical quality.
Festival of the Elves: The Magic Around You is a wondrous holiday delight that is sure to become a family read-aloud favorite because it highlights the benefits of spreading happiness. It will be a magical addition to your Christmas reading list!