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Laguna Beach

Locals Tom and Gayle Joliet anticipate launch of their children’s book Alani and the Giant Kelp Elf


It all started with a giant elf in the South Laguna Community Garden Park. Ultimately, the seed of an idea turned into a 64-page children’s book, Alani and the Giant Kelp Elf, written and illustrated by Gayle and Tom Joliet, which will be released in November by Laguna Wilderness Press. 

As with most books, it wasn’t an overnight project. Gayle says, “It took three years and approximately 70 revisions for the finished product.”

Tom and Gayle sketched together and then Gayle painted the watercolor renderings. Being a third grade teacher for over 30 years helped her in selecting the proper vocabulary for eight to 10-year-olds, and a few of Gayle’s teacher friends collaborated on that process as well. 

A need for children’s books about Laguna

“There are no children’s books about Laguna,” they say. Both Gayle and Tom felt there was a need to educate kids about the Laguna Bluebelt and the Laguna Greenbelt (which are referenced in the story) as well as illustrate that when people take action to save our land and sea, it makes a difference. 

Tom says, “We originally were going to self-publish the story, but Laguna Wilderness Press heard about it and wanted to handle it. It’s the first children’s book the press has published.”

Laguna Wilderness Press is a nonprofit dedicated to publishing books about the presence, preservation, and importance of wilderness environment. It was a perfect fit in many ways, and the Joliets always intended that proceeds from the book be donated. Several local organizations have already offered sponsorships.

Locals Tom bookcover

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Submitted photo

“Alani and the Giant Kelp Elf” will launch in November

Laguna Wilderness Press asked for more artwork, which took the book from 56 to 64 pages, and Tom says, “It enhanced the story nicely, but not much was changed in the text.” 

Gayle added a glossary of the fish found in the kelp beds off of Laguna and also a detailed description of the various parts of a kelp plant plus other reference material.

In the story, Kelfie and his Kelp Elf Clan need help. Their underseas home, the giant kelp forest off the coast of Laguna Beach, is being destroyed by over-fishing and pollution. 

Destruction of kelp forest

Can their human friend, Alani, help them find a solution so they won’t have to leave their homes forever? 

Gayle revealed that Alani is based on a girl who comes to the garden, and the cat frequently pictured in the story is the garden feline who has been homesteading there for years.

The book is described as, “An engaging story for young children to teach environmental awareness and civic responsibility. Alani and Kelfie realize that people must speak up to create laws that protect the land and sea creatures who cannot speak for themselves.” 

The real story started when Gayle and Tom became part of the group that founded South Laguna Community Garden Park 10 years ago (the anniversary is September 28). Since its inception, the use of the Garden Park has been donated by its owner, however, a fund was set up to purchase the property so that it can become a permanent public park. 

Locals Tom Giant Elf

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Photo by Dianne Russell

Tom and Gayle with the Giant Elf

The garden evolved from an upper terrace to an additional terrace below. Fifty planter boxes (built in two stages), stairs, boulders, and other items were added over the years by community members. The objective is that each garden bed be purchased and then maintained by members/volunteers. 

The Garden Park also spawned a band – the Garden Band – of which Tom is a member. As most residents know, he plays the ukulele, and the band has played at many events in town. 

How the Giant Kelp Elf was born

On Valentine’s Day 2016, dirt was brought into the garden and became the original giant elf sculpture. The Joliets decided to have a contest for sixth graders, asking the questions – Is it an elf? How did the elf get there? Is it a boy or girl? – and assuming all legends would be true. 

Tom says, “Then we got the idea that there would be a tunnel – under the head of the giant elf – that goes all the way under the ocean to a kelp bed.”

And so the story was born, unfolding as the kelp elf Kelfie comes up the tunnel and leaves a magic nautilus shell necklace for Alani, the garden girl.

However, young readers will have to wait until the book launch to discover what happens next.

Pre-order Alani and the Giant Kelp Elf by visiting, mailing a check or money order payable to Laguna Wilderness Press to P.O. Box 149, Laguna Beach, CA 92652, emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or calling (951) 827-1571.

Include with your check the number requested and title of the book; the total amount should include the price of the book, $19.95, plus $5 for shipping. If purchasing in Calif., an additional eight percent tax should be included in the grand total as well.

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In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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