App of the Week: ‘Elliot Foxley’ – Learning Life Lessons From A Charming E-book
Growing up, books were a huge part of my childhood. Tales from Enid Blyton and Beatrix Potter were the perfect blend of adventure, bravery and excitement, with a hint of something ominous about them, and usually with a subtle message or moral. Just recently, my daughters and I discovered a new kid on the block – well, a fox to be exact – whose story harks back to those classic authors.
Elliot Foxley is the adorable star of an e-book of the same name. The creation of Australian writer and ARIA-nominated musician Stavros Yiannoukas (and beautifully hand-illustrated with watercolour and pencil by Sarah Gleeson), Elliot and his soulful eyes captured our hearts from the outset. What’s not to love about a tiny orphaned fox bundled in blankets in a box?
With the theme of ‘home’ at the heart of his tale, readers follow Elliot Foxley as he travels through different locations, trying to find the one place he fits in. Along the way he tries life with circus cats, lives in an underground kingdom of rats, and a faces a frightening life or death test when he stumbles upon a palace of dogs. Eventually, he learns his own lesson about what ‘home’ means.
Speaking to Stav one sunny Sydney morning recently, he and I discussed the notion of including slightly darker themes in children’s books – something I know I loved as a child. Although Elliot Foxley is on the whole a gentle and uplifting tale, it doesn’t shy away from some of the bigger emotions we face in life, which is a notion I support as a parent.
“There’s the idea that we should be looking to protect kids from existential crises, like loss and death, but if you look at some of the most popular stories, things like ‘Bambi’, ‘The Lion King,’ or ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’, you realise that kids are emotionally much tougher than we give them credit for,” says Stav.
“They have a strength that we as adults don’t have, because they’ve not been made fragile by years of experience. To me, as a parent, I’m always preparing my kids for the time when they will be out on their own and independent. I’m giving them tools for resilience and emotional intelligence – that’s how I look at this parenting gig, for myself.”
Stav explains that the story of Elliot is also his own story – of the death of his father and his attempts to deal with the loss. The various situations that Elliot finds himself in are reflective of stages in Stav’s own life – the circus echoes his time in a rock band and his creative life, the rats represent the Greek and Cypriot communities he belongs to, and from whom he learns teamwork, and the dog kingdom is his search for courage. These three elements provide the backdrop for his and Elliot’s coming of age journey, as they both discover that the concept of ‘home’ is more layered and complex the older we get, but that it can still be comforting and beautiful, no matter what circumstances we face.
The e-book is one that Stav has heavily invested in, not only financially, but time-wise and emotionally as well. It’s taken around eight years to complete, with Stav starting it while he was touring as a member of the indie rock band Bluejuice. It was finally released on the 9th April this year, on what would have been his father’s 80th birthday. The choice of this significant date speaks to the emotion and love poured into the project, of which he is immensely proud.
The adventures of little Elliot (or ‘Elly’ as he’s sometimes called) became a family affair, with the character of Elliot being voiced by Stav’s wife, Fiona Stuart, who is a professional animation voice actor on many well-known kids’ cartoons. Her undefinable accent is reflective of her worldwide travels, having lived in Canada, Korea, France, England and now Australia, and it helps Stav succeed in his aim to make it Elliot Foxley a universal story that isn’t attached to a time or place.
As well as voicing a couple of the characters himself, Stav also wrote and performed two songs to accompany the app – one that plays during the main menu (and instantly grabbed my 10-year-old daughter’s interest with its catchy pop feel), and the other in the closing credits.
As well as teaching children about ‘big’ feelings, this entertaining e-book can help them on their quest to learn to read, and has some fun, interactive features, such as being able to search for Elliot’s guardian angel, Sarah the Owl, in the illustrations.
Stav’s wish for the e-book is simple – that it makes kids and adults genuinely feel something, and that they understand its main message – that you carry home in your heart. Judging by the fact that the morning after we first read it, my 7-year-old opened her eyes and mumbled through the veil of sleep, “Can we read Elliot Foxley again?” then I’d say that’s mission accomplished!
Download the e-boook today from the App Store