Afternoon Of The Elves

by Janet Taylor Lisle

Hardcover, 1989



Local notes

Fic Lis






Orchard Books (1989), Edition: 1st, 122 pages. $15.95.


As Hillary works in the miniature village, allegedly built by elves, in Sara-Kate's backyard, she becomes more and more curious about Sara-Kate's real life inside her big, gloomy house with her mysterious, silent mother.


Nebraska Golden Sower Award (Nominee — 1993)
Utah Beehive Book Award (Nominee — Children's Fiction — 1993)
Kentucky Bluegrass Award (Nominee — 1991)
Newbery Medal (Honor Book — 1990)
Nutmeg Book Award (Nominee — Intermediate — 1995)
Nēnē Award (Nominee — 1992)
Gouden Griffel (Zilveren — 1993)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

122 p.; 8.51 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member Whisper1
This 1990 Newbery Honor award winner, is hauntingly complex.

Hillary is a child of comfortable middle class who is curious about Sara Kate, the neighbor girl who wears raggedy clothes, sporadically attends school and lives in a dilapidated house.

The story becomes darker as Hillary is enticed to
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explore Sara Kate's magical elfin village, complete with tiny houses of autumn leaves for roofs, bottle caps used for swimming pools and teeny stones for bitty lawn ornaments.

When the little village becomes an obsession for Hillary, she finds that secrets abound in the larger ramshackle house inhabited by Sara. Forbidden to play next door, Sara disobeys her parents and is increasingly drawn to the magic of the village and her elfin, waif-like neighbor whose mother hides behind the darkened windows in the unmagical abode.

This is an excellent tale of societal impressions, of doors that are closed and windows that are barred, of judgment rather than assistance. It is a tale of magic vs. cold, cruel reality. It is a story of friendship, but it is ever so much more than this. When Hillary's eyes are opened she sees things that her comfortable, safe life never dreamed possible.

Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member TadAD
This is an interesting tale of friendship...focusing on issues of loyalty, independent thinking and how we treat those who are different. From the back blurb, I expected something similar to a modern version of T. H. White's Mistress Masham's Repose (a marvelous book, itself) but it surprised me.
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The reader is left to decide whether this is a delightful fantasy story, or a tale of desperate imagination attempting to make reality bearable.

I think most readers will enjoy this book; I did. However, it has a rather odd overtone which left me unsettled. If you come down on the side of this not being a fantasy I did...the author seemed unwilling just to let Hillary have her viewpoint. It's almost as if she, the author, took sides in the story in a slightly irresponsible way.

Recommended, but I plan to talk over the larger issues with my kids if they read it.
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LibraryThing member electrascaife
Nine-year-old Hillary lives with her parents in their nice home and their lovely garden, which her father keeps immaculate. She goes to school and hangs out with her popular friends and lives in a nice little bubble. The neighbor girl, Sara Kate, lives in a run-down house with her mysterious and
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rarely-seen mother (her father isn't around), wears raggedy clothing and strange old boots to school, and has no friends because all the girls think she's strange. When Sara Kate invites Hillary over to her yard, which is full of trash and briars and weeds, to see the village that the elves created, Hillary accepts, much to her friends' scorn and disapproval. She gradually becomes friends with the cautious and caustic Sara Kate and spends most of her time with her in the elf village (which she believes in her heart is real), but is never invited inside the house. After Sara Kate stops coming to school and is never in the yard anymore, Hillary braves walking into the dilapidated house to look for her, and in that moment her bubbled life begins to change. Well written, lovingly crafted, and absolutely heartbreaking. An important read for middle grade kiddos.
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LibraryThing member Crowyhead
This one's due for a re-read. I recall it as a lovely but disquieting story that mixes fantasy and reality.
LibraryThing member lppeters
This is one of my most favorite books and I have enjoyed reading it again, even if the last time I read it was in 5th grade. I would highly recommend any teacher to have their class read this book and encourage them to have the students really get into a project at the end. I think having them
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maker their own garden would be something that really used their creative side and would make this assignment enjoyable and fun!
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LibraryThing member cc120323
This is a story about two girls who are totally opposite in every way but are drawn to each other as friends. Hillary is from a caring, well provided for, mom and dad in the home family. Sarah who is her neighbor is the mystery. You never see Sarah’s mother, she is untidy, steals, in and
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out of school, and seems underfed. They create a friendship that has its secrets, lies, and ways of dealing with the hardships of life. You believe throughout the book that there are elves in the backyard and that the one friend is using the other. In fact the elf village the girls create is Sarah’s escape to a childhood that she is unable to experience. In the end you realize how one girl is dealing with the harsh realities of life with a mentally ill mother and how fear of being separated from a mother unable to care for her daughter leads the girl to do things that you would think are well beyond her years.

I think the end of the book is the best part. It seems to leave you hanging when the mother is calling out to her daughter from the back door and there is no answer. I think Hillary has matured and the old naïve Hillary is gone forever.

Create an elf village of your own using things you find in your back yard.

Tell how you would react to a friend like Sarah.
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LibraryThing member michcall
Not my favorite, but descent
LibraryThing member amygatt
Sara-Kate is an outcast child who lives next door to Hillary. Everyone thinks she is mean and strange, and so she has no friends. Then one day Hillary sees her in her backyard and learns that there are elves living there and that they have made a little village, complete with a ferris wheel. Pretty
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soon, Hillary is going to Sara-kate's yard all the time and they strike up an unlikely friendship. Then Hillary learns the truth about Sara-Jate's broken family, her sick mother, and the fact that Sara-Kate has been taking care of her mother and the house all by herself. The more she learns about this harsh reality, the more she starts to convince herself that Sara-Kate is actually an elf. I like the fact that such a harsh reality is masked by a childhood fantasy about elves. The book Signal actually reminded me a lot of this book, because in the end, you find out that the child who has constructed such an intriguing fantasy world is actually trying to escape into it because reality is too painful. I read this book in elementary and middle school and it was another of my favorites.
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LibraryThing member MartyAllen
Readers expecting elves and fairies will be disappointed to find just another story like any other. They will read of the elf village and wait for the appearance of the creatures...and then sigh in displeasure when it never occurs. Instead, the story centers around two rather flat characters and
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their relationship. Several potential plotlines surface, but none become fully developed. Whether looking for a fairy tale or friendship story, readers should look elsewhere.
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LibraryThing member fingerpost
Eight year old, Hillary, befriends Sarah-Kate, who is a coupe of years older than her, although they are the same height. Nobody seems to like Sarah-Kate. She is slovenly, wears boy's work boots, and doesn't seem to care what anybody thinks of her. But Hillary, who lives next door, is enchanted
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when Sarah-Kate invites her over to see an elf village that has been built in her yard. Hillary slowly comes to idolize the older girl, in spite of her weirdness, instantaneous mood swings, and the fact she has never been invited inside Sarah-Kate's house, or seen the girl's mother, who she lives with. Hillary begins to believe 100% in the magic of the elf world Sarah-Kate seems to know so much about.
About halfway through the book, there is a shift, as Hillary begins to slowly learn more things about Sarah-Kate and her mysterious unseen mother. But the 8-year-old girl is almost under a spell, and can't see what is right in front of her eyes... That Sarah-Kate is a skillful manipulator and is just taking advantage of Hillary.
When Hillary's mother finally discovers what is really inside Sarah-Kate's house, that is when the truth all begins to come out.
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LibraryThing member fuzzi
A more serious tale of a friendship between an "in" girl and a social outcast, drawn together by their fascination for the unseen world in one's backyard. Sobering but worthy read of less than idyllic childhoods.
LibraryThing member bell7
Sara-Kate is a fifth grader who stayed behind a year and everyone knows she's bad news. But one day, she invites fourth-grader Hillary over to see a village built by elves. Hillary's yard, with its carefully tended garden, backs up to Sara-Kate's, which is a mess of weeds and poison ivy, and
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Hillary is intrigued by the possibility of elves. Though her parents aren't so sure about it, Hillary and Sara-Kate strike up an unlikely friendship and begin to play together in the yard.

This was an odd sort of story that I think perhaps did not work well for me both on audio and as an adult. It left a tension of whether or not the elves were real or just Sara-Kate's imagination (or, perhaps more insidiously, a lie to get Hillary to play with her). Her father is "away on a trip" and her mother doesn't leave the house, which may have seemed like delicious freedom to a child reader and immediately sends up red flags to an adult. The ending is ambiguous in a few ways, both leaving open the possibility of magic and never really resolving Sara-Kate's problems. I think as a result, I would've believed in the magic as a child but I'm left rather unsettled instead.
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LibraryThing member quondame
This is almost or maybe is, a horror story. Hannah, a fourth grade girl is fascinated by the neighbor whose backyard abuts hers, which is wild and trash strewn and harbors an elf village. Sara-Kate the neighbor is a ragged difficult girl repeating 5th grade and shunned by the entire school, but
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Hannah finds something spending time with her tending the elf-village that her well manicured life does not supply. Short, it ends deliberately inconclusively.
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LibraryThing member foggidawn
In her ragged clothes and oversized boots, Sarah-Kate is a figure of ridicule at school. However, she has a magic elf village in her neglected back yard, as Hillary discovers one day when Sarah-Kate invites her over to see it. The two girls spend the fall "helping" the elves by making tiny
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improvements to their village, and Hillary hopes, more than anything, to see an elf for herself, if she is careful and quiet and looks deeply at the natural world as Sarah-Kate instructs. Sarah-Kate can be strange and temperamental, but Hillary is completely taken with this new friendship . . . until the day Sarah-Kate disappears.

There are hints of magic to this story, which is what I think I gravitated toward when I read this as a child (I'm pretty certain I read this as a child?), but as an adult it's a darkly bittersweet book about child neglect and a family in need to help. It feels a tiny bit dated now, but there's still the lovely allure of the elf village and the compelling character of Sarah-Kate to give the story its appeal.
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½ (122 ratings; 3.6)
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