Afternoon of the Elves

by Janet Taylor Lisle. Novel. 144 pages. Grades 4-7.
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One of the best books I've read in a long time is Janet Taylor Lisle's Afternoon of the Elves. This is not the outright fantasy the title might imply. It's the story of a very real, resourceful, imaginative and desperate girl, Sara-Kate, her confused but loyal friend, Hillary, the village in Sara-Kate's backyard that might or might not have been made by elves, and Sara-Kate's secret life. The backyards of the two girls are joined, and the contrast between them is stark. Hillary's is trimmed, neat and full of carefully tended plants; Sara-Kate's is wild, full of poison ivy and junk. However, it's in the latter yard that the elf village appears with ingenious tiny houses, a well and even a Ferris wheel.

Hillary is delighted when Sara Kate trusts her enough to allow her to examine the wonderful village. Hillary thinks Sara-Kate herself might be an elf before she discovers Sara-Kate's desperate situation. Inside Sara Kate's own house there is precarious survival at best. Sara-Kate's mother is mentally ill and helpless. Sara-Kate has been getting by with almost no food, heat or clothing. Her elf village has been her only joy for a very long time. Unfortunately, as Hillary discovers Sara-Kate's plight and promises not to tell the authorities, Hillary's mother walks in. Again, this novel is not difficult as far as reading levels are concerned, but it deals with some pretty grim facts. It reminds me of Marilyn Sachs' The Bears' House (Puffin, 1996 ISBN 0140383212) and the two books go well together. Don't miss this treasure.


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