Although many books for young readers address the theme of friendship, few explore its ambiguous psychological nuances as intently as Afternoon of the Elves. In this regard, it is also unique within Janet Taylor Lisle’s oeuvre, although her earlier novel Sirens and Spies (1985) also emphasizes friendship and the importance of probing beyond surface appearances. Her novels The Great Dimpole Oak (1987), The Lampfish of Twill (1991), and Forest (1993) are whimsical fantasies that emphasize action over reflection and incorporate large casts of extraordinary characters. With such books as The Gold Dust Letters (1994) and Looking for Juliette (1994) in the series Investigators of the Unknown, Lisle returned to realistic settings with hints of magic but kept her narratives focused on action rather than on her characters’ interior lives.
Afternoon of the Elves won high critical esteem in the year of its publication, when it was named both a Newbery Honor Book and an American Library Association Notable Book. Steady paperback sales since then suggest that children as well as adults find this story of friendship and imagination highly readable. With its evocative yet economical style and its emphasis on themes that have timeless appeal to young readers, Afternoon of the Elves is likely to become a minor classic in the canon of children’s literature.