In 2004 Chanda Bell, from Atlanta Georgia, sat down for a cup of tea with her mum Carol and together they wrote a children’s story based on a family Christmas tradition called The Elf on the Shelf. Now throughout the world in December, children go to bed wondering where their own special scout elf will pop up in the morning – and what they will tell Santa that night. Chanda has two children, Kendyl (12) and Taylor (17).
Interview by Nadia Duncan
Q) Your first book Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition was inspired by your childhood memories. How did it all start?
At Christmastime, when we were children (I have a twin sister and a younger brother) my mom had a tiny toy elf and she would tell us that at night, when we were sleeping, he flew back to the North Pole to talk to Santa Claus. So, of course we would talk to him and tell him what presents we wanted for Christmas. In the morning he would appear back in a different part of the house and we would race around trying to find him. I had so many special memories of this magical experience that I wanted to share them with other families and they then became my first book.
Q) What do you think it is about the idea of one of Santa’s helpers constantly watching over children to make sure they make the ‘nice’ list that we love so much?
There is nothing more magical to a child than the idea that you have a direct line to Santa and that he has a friend who comes from the North Pole just to see you and who you can tell all your little Christmas wishes to. It’s just one of those concepts which totally engages a child’s imagination. The kids are imagining their elf having a chat with Santa and for the parents, I think they love having a fun and endearing conversation with their children that they might not have had otherwise, “Where did you find your elf today? What was he doing?” It brings a little sprinkle of seasonal magic to the entire family’s day.
Q) What are some of the most original elf escapades that you have heard about over the years?
(Laughs) There are a lot! The elves tend to match the personalities of their families, some might simply move from place to place – and that’s still just as magical for the kids – and some I have seen are just crazy. There have been so many clever ideas over the years I can’t choose just one however I do still get very protective over the elves and I don’t like it when they are in danger.
Q) The beautiful, newly-released animation, St Bernards Save Christmas, is based on your books Elf On The Shelf and Elf Pets. The story is about what happens when an entire town loses the true spirit of Christmas. What does the true spirit of Christmas mean to you?
For me it’s about tapping into a love of tradition and a love that kids have for Santa. He’s not just some wizard from the North Pole who whips up presents. A man who makes toys for children, for no other reason than to bring them joy –who is that person? He is kind, and generous, and good and these are the lessons that we want to teach our children. How do we combine this beloved character with what we want to teach our kids about the moral values of giving and kindness and goodness? I believe people are just so much more accepting of this ideology at this time of year. The movie explains why the idea of this community in the North Pole is so magical and it allows us as parents to tap into those messages about the greater good of mankind.
Q) Finally, I have to ask. What would your elf name be and why?
There’s a really fun game on elfontheshelf.com where you can find your own Scout Elf name, Santa’s Helpers Name Generator. I can’t remember what mine was but my favourite ever elf name of all time (and I’ve heard some great ones) is one my son came up with which is Tator Chip – like Potato Chip and because his name is Taylor – I just think it’s the cutest name ever.
Elf Pets: Santa’s St. Bernards Save Christmas is out now on DVDand Digital Download.