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National Read Across America Day Ideas for an Alice in Wonderland Mad Tea Party

National Read Across America Day Ideas for an Alice in Wonderland Mad Tea Party

“Dear dear, how queer everything is today. And yesterday things went on just as usual!”

mad tea party
Celebrate reading with an Alice-inspired party | Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever had a Mad Tea Party? To do so, one has to be warned, is to abdicate any sense of rules or decorum. It is to embrace nonsense as the guiding principle: pure, anarchic nonsense of the kind that leads to sloshed tea cups and wild, wordy toasts, circumlocutions that never quite make a circle. It’s bonkers, of course, and you’ll be bonkers for joining in. But the best people are.

The worlds created by Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass are celebrations of many things. They’re mathematical metaphors. They’re lovely and adventurous excursions into the gleeful jungles of language. Most of all, they’re an ode to imagination, wonder, and the persistent logic of children in a world that grownups make upside down and absurd with rules and customs. It’s why Alice, sweet and wonderful, stubborn and brave Alice, has persisted for over a hundred years. And it’s why we celebrate her, and Carroll, on National Read Across America Day.

Today, March 2nd, the National Education Association is proud to celebrate Read Across America Day, when educators, parents, librarians—anyone who loves the gift of books—shares that magic with children. One of the authors celebrated this year is Lewis Carroll, which is why we think that it’s the perfect time to have an Alice in Wonderland-themed party. Send out fanciful Wonderland-themed invitations to friends, and make sure the children are there. Have your amazing Alice in Wonderland-inspired bookmarks from Elfster for party favors. And, don’t be late, for the Duchess will be savage.

EAT ME and DRINK ME: Refreshments for the Party

“First, however, she waited for a few minutes to see if she was going to shrink any farther. She felt a little nervous about this. ‘For it might end, you know,’ said Alice to herself, ‘in my going out altogether. I wonder what I should be like then?’ And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle looks like after the candle is blown out, for she could not remember ever having seen such a thing.”

an alice mug
Let your drink slosh about | Image courtesy Etsy seller ArtsyPumpkin

The first thing you’ll need, of course, is tea. You can’t have a Mad Tea Party without it. At the very least, you’ll want to have some unexpectedly delightful teacups (preferably with a saucer to catch the sloshings). Not every kid likes tea, though, and depending on the ages of your party guests you might not want to have hot liquids, but you can fill a teapot with anything. Just remember that if you’re in the spirit of things, it’ll get messy. After all, they’ll be toasting with the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse.

For nibbles to eat, they mostly had cakes and crackers, and little English sweet things. You might not be able to get the exact kind, so cupcakes and cookies will do. Make sure, though, that you have EAT ME signs and DRINK ME tags on all the sweets and beverages.

If you’re having a party just for adults, consider serving Mock Turtle Soup. It’s an English dish that was cheaper than actual turtle soup, using sirloin, eggs, chicken broth, and a lot of seasoning. It’s pretty delicious, and simple to make. It’s themed, of course, because Alice meets an actual Mock Turtle, who tries to regale her with his tale of woe, although he’s constantly interrupted by a Griffin, much to sweet Alice’s intemperate annoyance.

You might feel bad about eating Mock Turtle Soup, but Alice herself said that she’s seen it “at Dinn…,” to which the Turtle responds that he doesn’t know where Dinn may be. All the better, perhaps.

Playtime for the Imagination: Lunatic Croquet and the Lobster Quadrille

“The chief difficulty Alice found at first was in managing her flamingo.”

With all the madness and the fun (and the tea and cupcakes), the kids at the party should be pretty revved up. Here are a few activities for them:

Lunatic Croquet

This is probably the most famous scene in the book: the game of croquet with the Queen of Hearts. The mallets are flamingos and the balls are hedgehogs and the arches are the Queen’s playing cards, and they all scramble around to help the demented and distorted old head-chopper win the game. Alice thinks this is dreadfully unfair, but the lawless nature of it makes it perfect for kids.

lunatic croquet
Don’t use actual flamingos and hedgehogs | Image courtesy Etsy seller TinyRed

Get a good children’s deluxe croquet set, set it up in the yard, and let them go nuts (employing proper mallet safety, of course). There doesn’t need to be any rules. They should take delight in the thwacking. There are just too many rules everywhere for kids. They can’t go here and they shouldn’t see this and they certainly can’t watch that. Before they become adults, with our imaginations limited by customs and shoved into these costumes of grown-ups, let them play.

Lobster Quadrille

If that’s not enough, maybe it’s time to dance the Lobster Quadrille. That’s a dance the Mock Turtle teaches Alice, and it involves throwing lobsters in the sea, doing somersaults, and running around. There are also snails involved. You’re not really going to be able to do it. And that’s ok. The whole point is for the kids to just…join the dance. Have them make it up.

Let each kid create a short dance to teach to the other kids. It could be to the tune of the Lobster Quadrille (the Franz Ferdinand version or the classic one), or whatever tune pops into their wild and unfettered heads when you read them the lyrics.

“Will you walk a little faster,” said the whiting to the snail

“There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my tail”

See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance

They are waiting on the shingle- will you come and join the dance

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you come and join the dance?

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you come and join the dance?

Reading Keeps Childhood Alive

“A cat may look at a king,” Alice said. “I read that in a book somewhere, but I don’t remember where.”

Will you, won’t you? Won’t you join? That’s what National Read Across America Day is all about. It’s about having kids join a magical club, one where the only limit is imagination, and in the mind of a beautiful genius like Lewis Carroll, that means there are no limitations.

vintage lewis carroll book
Vintage Carroll | Image courtesy Etsy seller PrettyHappyVintage

So make sure that you have everyone gather round, and read from the book. Maybe the kids have seen the movies. Maybe even in your head, the ideas are dominated by the Tim Burton renditions or, more likely, the classic cartoon. And that’s fine. Those are both wonderful.

But something magical happens when you start reading, and it happens to young and old alike. His words, and her thoughts and feelings, create their own images in your head. You see Alice as every child, as your children, or as someone close to you. Or maybe you reach back and put your own childhood in there. Because that’s what it is. Alice is who we are when we allow ourselves to be children, and she’s who children are at their most ferociously curious, when asking why is less a question than a driving need. It’s a time when exploring the next room means finding the entire universe. Alice chased a rabbit, and found a new world. Every day should be like that for children.

Reading allows them to do that, which is why after all the running and sloshing, the heart of the party should be the book. You give them that impossible galaxy of childhood. And that’s something they’ll keep—forever. By sparking imagination with Carroll’s words, you can help make sure that the sweet longings of childhood are never fully extinguished, and carry with them throughout their long and lovely lives. Lewis Carroll says it best, as Alice’s sister reflects on the dream her younger sister told her:

“Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.”

Don’t forget your Alice-themed bookmarks or our Wonderland Gift Guide! How are you celebrating Read Across America Day? What’s your favorite book? Tell us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our Lewis Carroll gift guide.

A Wondrously Wordy “Good Morning, Dr. Seuss” Read Across America Gift Exchange

A Wondrously Wordy “Good Morning, Dr. Seuss” Read Across America Gift Exchange

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!” – Dr. Seuss

move mountains sign
Kid, You’ll Move Mountains quote | Image courtesy Etsy seller Inspire4you

As a toddler, my mom would drop me at my grandma’s house early in the day before she went to work. I’d spend those mornings with my nose buried in Green Eggs and Ham, Fox in Socks, and The Cat in the Hat, sipping hot chocolate while cozied up on the couch. I would sit, enthralled, still in my pajamas, while the San Diego sun streamed in through the open windows.

This was how my boundless appreciation for the wise words of Dr. Seuss began to take root as he set my imagination free to run rampant, encouraging and nurturing thoughts of kindness, openness, and creativity.

As I got older, I was gifted Oh the Places You’ll Go for my high school graduation, bringing it along as I ventured to San Francisco for college, daring to dream and take chances with my writing and career. Today, magical whimsy still accompanies the words of Dr. Seuss as I read them aloud to my niece and nephew, his cartoon drawings and the loops of his letters leaping off the page and into the big openness of their eyes and hearts. There’s a wonder, an inspiration, a timeless feeling about Seuss that has the ability to affect and inspire us all.

So, what better way to celebrate the brilliant brains of Seuss than in that same poignant way I did as a child—in my pajamas, sipping hot chocolate at a cozy morning reading get together for adults and kids alike.

An Imaginative Hot Chocolate Bar

It’s a strong belief instilled from my childhood that Dr. Seuss should always be accompanied by hot chocolate; the comfort of a good book and a warm mug will forever, quite literally, go hand in hand. Creating a wacky and wonderful blue and red-themed hot chocolate bar, inspired by Thing 1 and Thing 2 from The Cat in the Hat, is a very Seussian way to kick off our party!

seussian straws
Straws even Seuss would love | Image courtesy Target

What You’ll Need:

  • Whole milk
  • Cocoa powder
  • Milk chocolate chips
  • White chocolate chips
  • Marshmallows
  • Whipped cream
  • Crushed peppermints
  • Blue and red sprinkles
  • Blue and red straws
  • A slow cooker
  • Clear mason jars
  • An assortment of mugs (the wackier, the better)

How to Set It Up:

  1. The day before the party, prep your table. To use The Cat in the Hat as your theme, include lots of blues and reds. Use a red tablecloth, then layer with a blue runner. Fill mason jars with blue and red striped or polka dotted straws. Then, set out your mugs, seeing if you can safely stack them in some wacky way to evoke the hazardous way Thing 1 and Thing 2 would carry household items about.
  2. The morning of the party, make your hot chocolate in a slow cooker. For a party of 8, mix 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips with 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1/2 cup of sugar and 7 cups of whole milk. Combine in the slow cooker and stir, keeping on low for 2 hours until you’re ready to serve.
  3. While you wait for the hot chocolate, put out your marshmallows, milk chocolate and white chocolate chips, whipped cream, crushed peppermints (or candy canes), and sprinkles. For an added Seuss-like touch, use red and white baker’s twine to attach labels onto clear mason jars.

In the Words of Dr. Seuss

“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way!” The words of Dr. Seuss bring forth lessons on love, learning, and life with wit and wisdom for both kids and adults. Sharing my personal favorite quotes with guests makes me feel like I’m doing my part to encourage a love of reading and the written word. Plus, there seems to be something therapeutic about writing the words of Seuss out as an adult, important little reminders of the past that I can apply to my present.

seuss quote
Oh the Places You’ll Go | Image courtesy Etsy seller palaceandjames

Adorning your space with DIY Dr. Seuss quote decor is also a simple, but clever way to carry your party theme into your home. I like the modern look of plain white cardstock with blocky black ink letters, which is difficult to achieve with my left-handed chicken scratch. So I always turn to simple alphabet stencils for a little guidance.

I like to hang the quotes around the reading nook (which I’ll tell you about below) and above the hot chocolate bar. I even hang some in the bathroom for fun; the Seuss quote, “Only brush the teeth you want to keep,” comes to mind. As Seuss alludes to, the day of the party is your day, indeed, and the mountain that is waiting is the decor. So, it’s time to get on your way!

Bring out your old Seuss books and get searching for favorite quotes. Be sure to enlist your little ones for help. Here are a few of my go-tos:

  • “I’m telling you this ‘cause you’re one of my friends. My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!”
  • “You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights! You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights.”
  • “You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.”
  • “It’s opener there in the wide open air.”
  • “So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!”
  • “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

Then, when your party has run it’s wild and wacky course, surprise your guests by letting them pick a quote or two to take home as a party favor!

A Seuss-pirational Book Exchange

Dr. Seuss Collection
A Seussian book collection | Image courtesy Amazon

Using an online gift exchange website to organize it, ask your guests to bring their favorite Dr. Seuss book for a wordy gift exchange. The idea is a simple one: give a book, take a book, and most importantly—read a book! Theodor Seuss Geisel, best known as Dr. Seuss, published over 60 stories in his career, so encourage your guests to dig a little deeper than the most well-known classics to add something new to the collections of fellow guests.

Here are a few of my Dr. Seuss favorites:

  • Scrambled Eggs Super!
  • Oh the Thinks You Can Think
  • There’s a Wocket in My Pocket
  • Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose
  • Oh Beyond Zebra
  • Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?

A Reading Nook to Cozy up In

With a house full of books, you’ll need a cozy nook for your guests to relax in while they explore the wondrous world of Dr. Seuss.

a wondrous reading nook
A whimsical reading nook canopy | Image courtesy Amazon

First, pick a corner to transform into a dreamy word wonderland. You can use a twin sized mattress covered in a fun fitted sheet, an assortment of over-sized pillows, and even a kids’ tent or two. Drape a canopy from the top of the ceiling to create a whimsical effect or string up a curtain between walls. Hang a twinkly string of bulbs as your reading light and spell out READ with wooden letters painted in Seussian colors, which you can find at any craft store. Then just add the Seuss classics and let the imaginations of your guests take flight.

While you decorate, if you feel like your imagination gets stuck, just pull out a Seuss book to get your creative juices flowing. As Seuss himself says, “Oh, the thinks you can think up if you only try!”

For kids, the words of Dr. Seuss create memories. For adults, they bring back visions of childhood, and the importance of what it means to approach life with a little bit of humor, a little bit of wit, and a whole lot of wonder.

Throwing a Good Morning, Dr. Seuss party, complete with hot cocoa bar and reading nook, DIY quote decor, and a book exchange, will add some whimsy to your world and the world of your guests. It brings back the idea that there is, perhaps, no greater and timeless gift than the gift of a book. For in that book, new worlds can be explored, doors opened, and unexpected thoughts can be thought! Just remember,“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”

Happy reading!

Elfster encourages you to think imaginative, wandering, and wonderful Seuss-like thoughts when giving gifts. Explore our Seuss-inspired gift guide, download our Seussian bookmarks or connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram for more tidbits of inspiration.

A Year of Simplicity: How to Embrace the Minimalist Gift Giving Trend of 2017

A Year of Simplicity: How to Embrace the Minimalist Gift Giving Trend of 2017

simple cupcake
Image courtesy flick’r user A♥

Wandering aimlessly through the mall, I hunted for the perfect gift: an item that would be useful and beautiful—something that says, “I care about you,” without saying, “Here’s another knick-knack that I know you probably don’t need.” How in the world are you supposed to give a gift to a minimalist?

2017 is the year of consumer simplification—and that can make gift giving even more challenging. Many of us are being influenced by the minimalist lifestyle, from Marie Kondo’s viral decluttering magic to the popular streamlined Swedish aesthetic and “clean eating” movement. According to recent predictions, consumers are immersing in the digital world, reducing waste, and thinking globally even more in the new year.

As being online gains an ever-growing importance, our physical lives become more and more simplified, slowly but surely reducing our collective love affair with “stuff.” Here’s how to embrace minimalism when picking out a gift for anyone on your list in 2017—the year we all hope to finally get our lives decluttered.

Minimalism in Virtual Reality

Watership Down eBook
Digital versions of classics abound | Image courtesy Amazon.com

What in the (digital) world can you give to the friend who lives fully online? My buddy George is a knowledge enthusiast, always diving into the world of learning. Sometimes, it’s focused on his photography business, sometimes a new hobby like bookbinding or making homemade pasta—you’d think he’d need to have his own library! But, actually, he does all his learning via the world wide web.

This year, I’m gifting him with an online course for his birthday. Skillshare, for example, is a fantastic online resource for learning new crafts, hobbies, and trades, from digital photography to video game design. With a gifted subscription to a class, anyone can learn from the most popular and influential teachers of the day in almost any industry you can imagine—without stocking the bookshelf. Here are a few of the classes I’ve put on my own list:

  • Hand Lettering Essentials for Beginners
  • Street Photography: Capture the Life of Your City
  • Knife Skills: A Mini Class to Chop Like a Chef
  • Creative Writing for All: A Ten Day Journaling Challenge

And don’t forget, online booksellers also offer digital versions of many popular reads and timeless classics, everything from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

Impress a Global-Minded Guru

handpainted globe
We are all connected | Image courtesy Etsy seller NewlyScripted

Companies already cater to our desire for interconnected culture—we celebrate the unique spices of Indian cuisine and pay top dollar for fair trade imports. Even the ever-trending Lokai bracelets combine elements from around the world in one small beaded band. Citizens of the world seek out connections to a broader community. They want to open their kids’ hearts and minds to be more globally-focused, introducing exotic locations, unique lifestyles, and even ways to make an impact on people living a world away who they will never meet.

If you’re looking for a gift for your favorite global guru, look into giving altruistically in their or their family’s name. Organizations like Heifer International, for instance, donate livestock (and the accompanying education of how to care for them) on your giftees behalf to communities in the developing world. A gift of a chicken, goat, or cow can provide a family business and help make a difference in a tangible way.

Other organizations offering practical assistance to children and families around the globe are:

The Zero-Waste Environmentalist

Do you also have friends who fit this description: from clothes to decor, and even cooking supplies, they’re steadily moving toward owning as few belongings as possible to help reduce waste. These are the hardcore minimalists, and companies are going to engage them even more in 2017. They’re reducing or using multi-purpose packaging, switching to natural materials, and ensuring sustainability at every turn of the manufacturing process.

reusable bulk bags
Reusable bags facilitate bulk foods | Image courtesy Etsy seller EcoJoyBags

Choosing a gift for these folks can feel daunting, but, actually, they’re the most likely to appreciate a practical gift! Consider gifting a set of all-natural, reusable bags for bulk foods. The bulk bins are a staple for zero-waste living, but only if you bring your own packaging to the store. Mason jars are the norm, but thin-weave nylon bags are easier to carry, shatter-proof, and even come in a tight enough weave to hold nut flours or nutritional yeast.

Remember that the zero-waste minimalist avoids excess at all costs, so less really is more. When in doubt, an e-book version of Michael Pollan’s newest work would never go astray.

The truth is, yearly trends are just that—they change each year. Especially in the tech age, consumer interests move so quickly that it can be difficult to keep up. Due to the less-is-more approach that’s trending now, you may find a lot more digital gifts in your inbox this year. But who knows? Next year we might be back to gifting knick knacks and Christmas ties.

In the age of simplification, it’s important to remember the true significance of gift giving. Whether it’s physical books or digital, real-life concert tickets or a subscription to an artist’s video performance, your generosity and thoughtfulness still remain. You might find that giving physical items is more difficult now than ever before, but that doesn’t mean that the spirit of your gift has diminished in any way. Gift giving moves with the times, but take care to remember the kindhearted impetus that drives us all to exchange tokens of our appreciation for each other.

Need more gift ideas for the minimalist in your life? Check out Elfster’s gift lists for endless possibilities for every trend-follower on your list. Be sure to follow us on our Facebook page, find us on Instagram at @Elfstergram, and on Twitter @elfster for even more ideas on how to give in the new year.

Imaginations Take Flight: Ideas for a Children’s International Storytime Party

Imaginations Take Flight: Ideas for a Children’s International Storytime Party

safari book
We All Went on Safari | Image courtesy Amazon Seller and Author Laurie Krebs

“We all went on safari, over grasslands damp with dew…” Little minds will fill with wonder as the story We All Went on Safari unfolds in detailed descriptions and colorful pictures, transporting wee ones to the foreign land of Tanzania on the wings of their imaginations—and with the help of author Laurie Krebs.

Reading stories about traveling and people living colorful lives in foreign countries allows us to explore the world in ways not always open to us in real life, sending us into grand adventures with each turn of a page. These literary encounters provide the perfect platform to teach our kids about places and cultures beyond their home country, expanding their vocabularies and geographical knowledge over an afternoon bonding with a community of friends. So get ready to board a flight for a grand adventure, right from the comfort of your living room.

An Invitation to Experience the World

Deciding to get fully immersed into storybook travels with our kids, another book-loving mom friend and I hosted an “Around the World” luncheon, with a book gift exchange, to give our children a taste of the wide world beyond their doorsteps. We invited a handful of other families to join us, along with their little travelers, for an adventurous storytime and some international eats by sending out “A Passport to Read the World” invitations.

passport invitation
A passport to adventure | Image courtesy Etsy seller SproullieDesigns

These fun mock passports can be made with some blue cardstock, just a few sheets of paper, staples, and stickers:

  1. Using blue cardstock for authenticity, we sliced each page down the middle to make two covers from each sheet.
  2. Repeating the process with plain printing paper, we cut five pages in half to fit between the cover sheet.
  3. Lining up the blank white pages with the blue cover, we stapled them down the centerline to make a binding.
  4. Once stapled, we folded each booklet in half and decorated the cover with foil markers and passport stamp stickers to craft them into the perfect tickets to guide the way for our reading travels.

Inside the front cover of each passport-inspired invitation, families were asked to go online and sign into our book gift exchange to find out which family they’ll be gifting with their favorite cultural tale. Then, they’ll bring a new book, gift wrapped for the exchange, as well as their own beloved copy to read to the group. We even included an option to donate a second new book to our local library so our entire community can expand their horizons.

Finally, we made sure to remind the guests to bring their invitation, nay passport, along with them to the party—their mini world travelers will be filling up the blank pages with all the fun things learned about exotic locales as we read about them.

A Space to Seek Adventure—and Treats—Together

For our trip around the world, we pack the living room with comfy places to sit, centered around one large armchair that acts as the pilot’s seat for the featured storyteller as they take us on the escapades of their chosen book. To add an element of traveling whimsy to the decor, we enhanced the armchair to look like the front end of an airplane:

vintage airplane poster
Vintage Airplane Whimsy | Image courtesy Etsy seller Mirabilitas
  1. Using a couple cardboard boxes, we fashion two sides of a plane and a pair of wings by tracing the general shapes and cutting them out.
  2. Grabbing the markers and stickers we had leftover from making passports, we adorn the wings and label the sides of the plane “Storytime Air.”
  3. Once our plane parts are decorated to our liking, we fasten the wings to the sides of the plane using clear packing tape.
  4. Now that each side of our plane is assembled, we prop them up against either side of the armchair, and we’re ready for takeoff!

When it’s storytime, we’ll explain to the kids that each of their books is a special “flight map” able to take us on a unique adventure all over the world with the turn of a page. We also lined up a couple tables along the wall in the back to display the international cuisine we would sample for our storytime luncheon. We spread out book pages and maps to act as a table runner, hung extra books over a clothesline as a banner, and propped books up in stacks topped with a globe, a telescope, and a compass to inspire us in our explorations ahead.

Navigation Through Narration

Now that the room is staged for a grand adventure, the little ones are ready to dive into the pages of their favorite tales from afar with their friends. As we read aloud, parents are encouraged to help their kiddos make journal entries about our travels in their passports. The little ones can draw pictures while parents write in fun facts their adventuring babes loved from each story so they can revisit them again and again, taking note of the titles for future book purchases.

international flags
The (Mini) Flags of All Nations | Image courtesy Amazon seller Fun Express

Lily and her mom Rachel read Ruby’s Wish, a Chinese-inspired tale, taking turns on a few pages so 6-year-old Lily could practice her out-loud reading. Ryan could hardly wait to pass out the “passport stamp” stickers he brought along to match his favorite book, and jumped up to start the moment his dad turned to the last page of The Cat Who Walked Across France. Other amazing international reads the group brought were:

The Post-Flight Meal

There’s no easier way to introduce other cultures to kids in a tangible manner than through food. After our flights of story fancies, we enjoyed a luncheon Sarah and I prepared of finger foods inspired by worldwide cuisines. Options included a few familiar looking choices in the form of a French cheese tray, English tea and biscuits, Italian pasta salad, Australian fish and chips, and a Caribbean fruit salad—and a couple not-so-common dishes like Indian Chicken Marsala, and Moroccan lentil soup cups.

All dishes were clearly labeled with the names of the food and marked with small flags from the country of origin to help kids match the dish to its culture. And the variety of flavors and textures gave the kiddos a chance to taste what their favorite characters from the day’s stories might be enjoying.

Exchanging the Tales of Our Travels

A Walk in London
A Walk in London | Image courtesy Amazon seller Salvatore Rubbino

Once every family had an opportunity to read their book, and all had their fill of the tasty lunch assortment, the kids got to share in the joy of giving a copy of their favorite story to the friend they were assigned in the exchange online. Having learned which child they would be gifting a book to before the event, but not who would be giving a book to them, left all of the kids super excited to find out which story they would end up with.

Sarah’s son Kale was thrilled when he found out Michelle had picked him in the book swap since he fell in love with her tale Are We There Yet? during our storytime. Isabell couldn’t have been happier to discover that she would be going home with A Walk in London, having thoroughly delighted in the tea and biscuits at lunch.

New tales of travel in hand, and young minds full of wonder at the world, we part ways with a renewed love of the written word. Wanting to make every effort to spread that love, many of us brought along a second new copy of our favorite book to donate so even more kids can fly to far off places and explore interesting cultures thanks to their nearby library.

Everyone left our storytime with a renewed sense of adventure to discover more of the fascinating worlds to be found in books. I know I was more than happy to oblige when my son asked to revisit our new storybook again before bed—and I’m sure we’ll all dream of spectacular world travels as we drift off to sleep tonight.

Looking for new adventures to share with the little ones in your world? Let the elves at Elfster help you create a globe-trotting reading gift guide and find lots of colorful ideas for an Around the World party of your own on Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, and Instagram @Elfstergram.

Elfster Book Lovers Get Creative with Summer Exchange

Elfster Book Lovers Get Creative with Summer Exchange

Elfster book exchange

Here’s to the lazy days of summer. Plenty of time to get outside, relax with a good book and escape into another world for just a little while. And that is just how one Elfster group will be spending its summer as they celebrate the author they love by exchanging creative and inspired gifts based on the main character of her latest novel, as “broken” as she may be.

According to Elfster exchange organizer Serena Knautz, the exchange participants are avid fans of Tarryn Fisher, who is the author of 7 novels and has made both the New York Times and USA Today bestseller list multiple times. “Between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, she has close to 50,000 followers,” Serena explains. “She has a very devoted fan base and in a conversation with some of her readers, she called them Passionate Little Nutcases and from there, her readers took the name and ran with it. They made t-shirts and started calling themselves ‘Tarryn Fisher’s Passionate Little Nutcases.’ Our Facebook group, Tarryn Fisher’s Passionate Little Nutcases, was started almost a year ago as a place for her fans to gather, discuss her books and interact with her on a more personal level. To date, we have 3,000 members and continue to receive daily requests for fans to join the group. Within the group, I have started an Elfster event and we have 500 members who have joined that event and have or are currently participating in the exchanges.”

Elfster book exchange 2

And for these book lovers, it’s all about creativity inspired by the author in this gift exchange. “When she was in Australia for a signing, [Tarryn Fisher] came across wrapped books at a bookstore and on the outside, they gave clues to the book inside,” Serena says. “It’s known as a ‘blind date with a book.’ She loved the idea and wanted to do something similar in her fan group, so I started the first exchange and had people choose their favorite book and send to their elf. It was such a hit that we have started doing exchanges every couple of months.”

“Elfster has made it so easy and fun for us to do these exchanges,” she adds. “The current one is based on her new book, Marrow.  We try to theme the exchanges and this one is all things Margo (the main character) and things from the book. With each exchange, the creativity of the wrapping and gifts increases and it is so much fun to participate and also see what everyone is getting.”

 

According to Serena, Tarryn’s first trilogy (The Opportunist, Dirty Red and Thief) is considered Contemporary Romance, while her more recent novels, Mud Vein and Marrow, are considered Suspense/Psychological Thrillers. Tarryn is also co-writing the Never Never series of romantic suspense novels with Colleen Hoover.

“Tarryn has a dark writing style that is beautiful and unique,” she says. “Her words are poetic and they make you feel what the characters feel. She draws you in from the first page and you are hooked you can’t put the book down until you are finished reading it. Then you sleep on it, wake up and start reading it all over again.”

“Most of her readers have read each of her books multiple times. She writes in a way that everything has meaning and when you read the book again, you pick up on things you might have missed the first time around,” Serena adds. “She has readers who have tattooed her words on their body. Readers can relate because she writes characters who are real and broken. Her fans will tell you that her books hurt, but in a good way. We keep coming back for more because there are not many authors out there like her and as soon as she releases a book, we stop whatever we are doing and read it.”

 

And Serena encourages her group members to be committed to sending out their packages on time and to take advantage of Elfster’s messaging features to help them get to know each other better. “We ask that those who participate use the anonymous question features to ask questions and get to know their elf, as well update their wish list to give their elf an idea of things that they might like or want to receive.”

“We love the anonymous question/message feature because it makes it easy to connect with our person without giving our identity away until we send out our gift,” Serena says. “I also love that I can click on my current pick for an exchange and see questions she has answered in the past, so I already know a few things about her and can surprise her with a gift that might not be related to the exchange.”

“As a group, we love participating in the Elfster exchanges,” she says. “People are posting daily in the Facebook group about the gifts they buying or having made for their person. Everyone puts so much time and love into their gifts. By doing these exchanges, we are starting to get to know each other a little better. Most of us have never met but we talk daily in the Facebook group.”

Serena says Tarryn “genuinely loves her readers and enjoys getting to know them. She encourages giving back and when someone in the group needs a pick-me-up, she might randomly send them a gift in the mail or a message on Facebook to let them know that she is thinking about them.”

“When one of our members mentioned she wanted to go to a signing to meet Tarryn, but didn’t think she was going to be able to go, as a group, we raised money to pay for her airfare and she is now going to get to meet Tarryn in person,” Serena adds. “We are there for one another and we lift each other up. And we are all there because we all love Tarryn and her books. It sounds crazy, but we are one big PLN family. Tarryn inspires each of us and it shows on a daily basis in the group.”

The elves at Elfster look forward to seeing these Passionate Little Nutcases for their next exchange to celebrate their favorite author with another creative theme.

Are you a part of a group with a passion for creativity? We would love to hear how your group is using Elfster, too. You can reach us via Facebook here. Tweet us @elfster or catch us on Instagram at #elfstergram.

Lights. Camera. Action. Elfster.

Lights. Camera. Action. Elfster.

 

Entertainment Gift Guide

Awards season for the entertainment industry is in full swing, and Elfster is ready to help you get red-carpet ready. The gorgeous gowns. The dashing tuxedos. The A-List celebrities. Oscar night will be one to remember. Whether you’re hosting the perfect Oscar viewing party or catching up on the top movie and TV picks of the year, our gift guides will be the hit of any wish list.

 

 

Electronics Gift Guide

The Oscars are just days away, so get ready for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Check out Elfster’s great electronic gift ideas featuring cool high-tech gadgets to make your viewing party the talk of the town. From Smartphone projectors and DVRs, to surround sound and home theatre systems, you’ll be sure to wow the audience.  If you have not seen the movies, it may not be too late?  Many titles are available to watch now.

Want to add a fun twist to your viewing party? Host an Oscar party secret santa style gift exchange with your movie-loving friends and share the season’s top DVD movies on your wish lists! Elfster’s  movie guide features this year’s available Oscar nominees for Best Picture… and then some.

 

 

And the Oscar Goes To…

Book version or on-screen version? Which has your vote? Dare to compare the best bets with Elfster’s book gift guide. Our guide offers a great selection of Academy Award-nominated books getting plenty of Oscar buzz!

Memoir-ial Day: Best Biographical Beach Reads

Memoir-ial Day: Best Biographical Beach Reads

Memoir-ial Day - Best Biographical Beach Reads

Page-turning is a great way to fan off on a hot summer afternoon. (Pool boys with palm fronds aren’t a bad solution, either.) But with the official start of the season just around the bend, it’s time to hit the beach with the right summer reading material.

Traditional “beach reads” are a bookworm’s nightmare, with plotlines about as deep as a kiddie pool; and these days, there are strict rules against bringing trash onto the beach. So this Memorial Day, with the temperatures rising, why not elevate your reading repertoire, too?

Elfster’s got a fun list of non-fiction titles that are both edifying and “shore” to please. Warning: These books are hard to put down! If you’re concerned about prolonged sun exposure due to reading, take a look at our “Sunburn Risk” assessment for each title.

 

The Lost Beach Boy: The True Story of David Marks

The story of a founding member of the Beach Boys who mysteriously faded into obscurity after lending his talents to early hits such as: “Surfin’ USA” and “Hawaii”.

Sunburn Risk: High (288 pages)

 

I’ll Catch the Sun: The Memoirs and Musings of a Nudist

The hilarious adventures of a globe-trotting nudist, with cultural insights on the lifestyle’s impact around the world.

Sunburn Risk: Very High (356 pages)

 

Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea

A high school runaway’s journey into adulthood, chasing waves and the Hawaiian tradition of surfing for serenity.

Sunburn Risk: Medium (200 pages)

 

Secrets of the Sno-Cone Lady: Angela’s Story

The true saga of a Greek immigrant who overcame abuse and adversity, finding the American Dream in a cup of shaved ice.

Sunburn Risk: Low (200 pages)

 

The Million Dollar Mermaid

The juicy story of a forgotten film star hobnobbing in 1940’s Hollywood, as she spills the beans on cinema’s screen legends.

Sunburn Risk: Very High (416 pages)

 

Grayson

Famed long-distance swimmer Lynne Cox recounts the sweet and suspenseful story of a baby gray whale following her after a morning dip in the Pacific.

Sunburn Risk: Low (176 pages)

 

A Friendly Life: The Autobiography of S. Prestley Blake, Co-Founder of Friendly Ice Cream Corp.

Friendly’s co-founder, S. Prestley Blake’s account of the brand’s unbelievable rise to success, and his personal fight to keep its guiding values afloat.

Sunburn Risk: Low (130 pages)

 

Everybody into the Pool: True Tales

A darkly humorous relation of a homecoming queen’s tragic spiral into the world of drugs.

Sunburn Risk: Medium (240 pages)

 

The Great Swim

The 1920’s attempt of four women to swim the English Channel first, plus the endeavor’s effect on swimwear, society and the world of sports.

Sunburn Risk: Very High (336 pages)

 

Not a Happy Camper: A Memoir

The side-splitting and often cringe-worthy memories of a teenager’s unconventional summer camp in 1970’s Maine.

Sunburn Risk: High (256 pages)

11 Big Ideas for Year-Round Gifting

11 Big Ideas for Year-Round Gifting

• Take it easy on the eggnog…

• Improve your snow-shoveling skills …

• Finally make a conscious effort to wash behind those pointed little ears…

Whatever your New Year’s resolution, there’s always one vice you can feel good about indulging in. (No, not reindeer tipping.) We’re talking about giving! When it comes to gift-oholics, we elves are proud to admit… We’re enablers!

To help make this year more memorable than ever, here are a few new ways to get your giving fix in 2011… only on Elfster!

• Birthdays

These prime present opportunities have a tendency to sneak up on everyone. But this year, you’ll never forget a buddy’s birthday with Elfster’s helpful reminders in advance! If you’re still a hopeless procrastinator, don’t fret. Our customized Wishlist feature ensures that you’ll always find something meaningful, even when time is tight.

• Study Groups

Cramming for an exam is about as fun as giving Blitzen a booster shot. Since your study group spends an awful lot of time hitting the textbooks, an Elfster gift exchange is the perfect way to inject some fun into your sessions. Find out your buddy’s favorite “Brain Food” or relaxation aid, and surprise them on test day with a “Good Luck” gift.

• Sports Teams

You might not be the star of the Bowling League, but everyone’s a winner when you set up a swap with your sports team. Even spectators can play! Team-themed gift exchanges are a great way to celebrate the playoffs or national championships. Get your group to add their must-have sports gear to their Wishlists, and the whole crew can root in style!

• Book Clubs

Elfster can put a fun new spin on your Reading Group’s selection process. Using a pool of your personal picks, your buddy can select one title from your Wishlist to go on the official reading lineup. This lets all members have a say, while keeping the element of surprise.

• Viewing Parties

Primetime television events are an easy excuse to throw a party, and with Elfster, you can now add gifting to the mix. Set parameters based on the type of programming you’ll be watching. For example, partygoers can exchange DVD’s of their favorite flicks at your annual Academy Awards soiree, or swap CD’s at a Grammy’s Bash.

• Pet Appreciation

Let your four-legged friends experience the joy of giving by setting up a gift exchange in their names.

• Block Parties

Get to know the neighbors by arranging an Elfster exchange within your dorm, apartment complex or homeowner’s association. It’s a great way to reach out to new members of the community, as well as catch-up with old friends.

• National Holidays

Keep the spirit of giving alive all year with themed gift exchanges according to national holidays.  Let the occasion choose the gift theme, whether it’s gag gifts for April Fools Day, or candy on Halloween!

• Off-beat Holidays

You probably won’t find “National Pie Day” or “Praise a Postal Worker Day” on your desk calendar, but Elfster will help you commemorate these whimsical events all the same. Start an exchange, making sure to draw names early on in the year (right about now is a great time!) Study your pick’s Wishlist to get an idea of their interests. Next, use a little internet research to find an off-beat holiday to commemorate that person, based on their personality or interests. Then, you can surprise your buddy with an unexpected gift once their oddball holiday rolls around.

• Concerts and Events

The same pre-emptive gifting technique can be used to plan memorable outings with your friends and family. Have everyone in the exchange select two tickets for an event that they would like (and are able) to attend. (For better planning, make sure all members add multiple options to their Wishlist.) Again, draw names early in the year. Use your buddy’s selections to find a date and event that works for you. Buy the tickets and enjoy the memories!

• Clubs and Organizations

If you’re inducting new members into your fraternity, sorority or other organization, a virtual gift exchange is a great way to learn more about those new faces. Also, a well-chosen gift will make anyone instantly feel welcome and part of the group!

Photo credits: Procsilas , Horia Varlan , Schlusselbein2007 , Petapotty , Steve Snodgrass , rick
Elfster Recommends: Books to Guide You!

Elfster Recommends: Books to Guide You!

9780761146193“Is This Thing On?” offers a straightforward nuts guide that introduces late bloomers, grandparents, technophobes, and the digitally challenged to all the wonders of using a computer! It covers everything from how to send an e-mail to print a photograph. Photo courtesy of Amazon

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10WaysLibuseBinder“Ten Ways to Change the World in Your Twenties” was written for the nearly 15 million college graduates in the United States between the ages of 20 and 30. It brings resources together and offers them simple and tangible ways to make the world they are inheriting a better place! Photo courtesy of Ten Ways

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“The Blue Heron Ranch Cookbook” blends 126 tasty, healthful recipes with lively tales of the Natali family’s adventures living in the wilds of California’s Los Padres National Forest. Photo courtesy of Amazon

Elfster Recommends: Books

Elfster Recommends: Books

6a00d83452063e69e2011570c24474970b-320pi“Why Don’t Your Eyelashes Grow?” is filled with fun trivia and sensitive questions children like to ask while grownups flounder around for answers. The book provides a great way to familiarize ourselves with the complicated bodies we rely on every day! Photo courtesy of Amazon

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bookcover3Leah Beth wrote and illustrated “A Different Kind of Hero” at the age of 12 after a lesson about the rain forest. The story is about a monkey named Tomagochi and a problem in the rain forest,” Leah Beth said. “He doesn’t believe he has anything special about him. The rest you have to read about it.” Photo courtesy of Amazon

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COJ front cover sky blueThese coloring books are designed specifically for women, with beautiful 9×12 inch art tablet sized drawings and inspirational and humorous writings to accompany. Great as a gift to yourself, or a friend or relative who needs a little “me time,” a mom who wants to color with her kids or a stressed out friend! Photo courtesy of Women’s Coloring Book