Volume 73, Number 50 | April 21 - 27, 2004

BOOKS


Local author pens tale about an elf with attitude

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg

In Union Sq. Park, an elf and a rat conspire to pit park regulars against each other and return the square to the “bad old days,” when trash littered the lawn and residents refused to walk through the park at night. Or so the story goes in “The Elf of Union Square,” a new novel for young adults by Greenwich Village author Jan Carr.

Published in February, the book features prominent Union Sq. landmarks — the playgrounds, the Greenmarket and the dog run, among others — and a boy named Jack and his reporter friend Will who investigate the ensuing chaos and try to bring the elf to justice. Carr first envisioned the book several years ago when she read a collection of elf and leprechaun stories to her now 9-year-old son, and he noticed that most of the stories took place centuries ago in foreign countries.

“He asked me if there were any elves living now in New York City, and I said, ‘You know, it could happen,’ ” Carr said. “When he went to sleep, I thought, that’s a great idea for a children’s book — there aren’t really a lot of stories about elves in contemporary settings.”

In the book, the Grinch-like Hiram the elf and Knut the rat detest happy park-goers, children playing in the playground, dogs frolicking in the dog run and diners enjoying lunch at the park’s outdoor cafe. When they hear of upcoming renovations to improve the park, they join forces to “squash all good feelings in Union Square.” The two enrage park visitors by soaping up monkey bars on the playground and strategically placing dog-doo on the park’s paths.

Carr has lived a few blocks from Union Sq. for the past 12 years and calls the park her family’s “backyard.” Over the years, she took her son there to play and said she incorporated many of her own experiences in the park into the novel. The book includes characters loosely based on people she has met in the area, including a homeless man who shouts at passersby from across the playground and a woman whose child grabs toys from other playground children.

“Fiction in some ways is like a patchwork — it’s all the little parts of life that come together,” she explained. “When my husband read a draft of the book, he said it was like a memoir of so many parts of our life here.”

At the time of 9/11, Carr had already started to work on her book, but said the events cemented her desire to write a story about New York City. “I needed to write something that expressed my love for the city and the people here,” she said. “New York is an amazing place, where people of every possible racial, religious and economic background for the most part get along.”

Carr has lived in New York City since 1975 and has written 10 picture books for children and a novel for adults. She has ghostwritten for book series such as the Babysitters Club, and worked on novelizations of movies like “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “The Little Mermaid.” She has also worked as a writing instructor at New School University and an associate editor in the book division of Scholastic Inc. Before Carr became a writer, she worked as a Head Start instructor in New York City and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Part two of her new book is already in the works, said Carr, with a working title of “The Elf of P.S. 7.” At the end of the first novel, Hiram the elf jumps into Jack’s backpack, unbeknownst to Jack, and the two jam onto the subway train for the morning commute to school. Carr hopes the book will come out in the summer of 2005. In the meantime, she is enjoying hearing feedback from young community members.

“Kids at my son’s school have really taken to the book,” she said. “It’s fun for me to see how the book has resonated with kids who know Union Sq.”

Along with Susan Kramer, a friend and the co-chairperson of the Union Square Community Coalition, Carr hopes to hold an elf hunt for children, to bring the book to life. During the event, children would look for tiny footprints in the park’s center lawn — a clue that an elf might live in the park. Carr and Kramer have yet to set a date for the event, but hope to hold the hunt at the earliest this spring, and at the latest during the Union Square Community Coalition’s annual children’s carnival on Sept. 12.

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