The Elf on the Shelf



Hit holiday book fun for kids but requires parent action.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Teaches kids the Santa mythology, and adds its own twist on the role of Santa's helper elves.

Positive messages

Promotes good behavior, but the motivation is to avoid having your elf tattle on you, so you can get the gift you've requested from Santa.

Positive role models

The elf is all about following the rules. But he's more about preventing rule-breakers than embodying good behavior.

Violence & scariness
Not applicable
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this popular self-published book comes with a toy elf that parents will be instructed to hide each night, in keeping with the story's premise that the elf monitors your kids' behavior wherever they are and reports back to Santa Claus while the kids are sleeping. It's an update of the notion that Santa "sees you when you're sleeping/ He knows when you're awake/ He knows if you've been bad or good/ So be good for goodness sake." Same concept, but with elf help on site. The elf doll is available in "light skin" or "dark skin" and a skirt can be bought for a girl elf. You also might want to check out the TV version that came out in 2011. 

What's the story?

Santa sends a little helper elf to watch the behavior of the kids in your family and report back each night while you sleep whether you've been naughty or nice. The book comes with a toy elf that parents hide in a different spot each night, adding to the understanding that the elf comes and goes and spies from different places. The elf comes "at holiday time" and after Christmas, returns to Santa until next year.

Is it any good?


The concept of this book is better than the execution. ELF ON THE SHELF brings a tradition developed in the home of the mother-daughter co-authors to readers who can embrace the idea that a little elf will be on duty, spying on kids' behavior and reporting back to his boss, Santa, who will make "the final decision" whether you "get your request." This idea of tying gifts to behavior is not new in the Christmas context, but it's awfully cut-and-dried in this story and may rub some parents the wrong way. Young kids will have fun with the game aspect and enjoy the toy, which they get to name, although according to the tradition, they are forbidden to touch it. The story is narrated by the elf in rhyming couplets, and the writing is not particularly clever. It's more of a cheery how-to manual. And the bright watercolor illustrations are colorful but not very sophisticated.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how it's sometimes hard to follow the rules. Do you think having the elf around will help you behave better?

  • Families can also talk about how they celebrate the holidays. What are your traditions? 

Book details

Authors:Carol V. Aebersold, Chanda A. Bell
Illustrator:Coe Steinwart
Topics:Magic and fantasy
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:CCA and B
Publication date:January 1, 2005
Number of pages:26
Publisher's recommended age(s):4 - 8
Read aloud:4 - 8
Read alone:6 - 8

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Adult Written bymy document December 8, 2011


it is very nice for child
Parent of a 3 and 6 year old Written byKristie6 June 3, 2012


We have been doing this since my oldest was almost 3. I take it out every year after Thanksgiving, we read the book and our elf "Riddle" finds a place to hide every night. The kids love it and it does give me that added "Riddle will tell Santa you're not behaving" bonus.
What other families should know
Great messages
Kid, 10 years old November 30, 2011

Beam story

it is nice to read this story
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much swearing


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