Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Lila Taslimi, the winner of the 2019 Lin C. Parker Wrapping Paper Design Contest, poses in the studio at the Times Free Press. Lila is a third-grader at Bright School.

The Elf on the Shelf may be known for his mischievous ways, but the Christmastime companion at Lila Taslimi's house has helped the 8-year-old win this year's Lin C. Parker Wrapping Paper Design Contest.

"I really like the Elf on the Shelf," says the Bright School third-grader. "I like what he does. He's always funny."

Like other Elves on Shelves, the Taslimi family's scout elf flies back to the North Pole each night, after everyone is in bed, to report to Santa who has been naughty and nice. Upon his return each morning, he finds a new hiding place for that day's spy mission.


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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Lila Taslimi, a third-grader at Bright School, chose the Elf on the Shelf for her winning design in the 2019 Lin C. Parker Wrapping Paper Design Contest.

He plays hide-and-seek in Lila's artwork as well. Her festive design features the elf in three poses within a chimney. In one, his head peeks out. In another, only his Santa hat is visible, with a sprig of holly attached at the tip. In the third, only his legs are showing, as the elf disappears into the chimney upside down.

Around him are scattered candy canes. Most are red and white, but a few have touches of green to match his pointy-toe shoes.

"I didn't want to have too much of one color," Lila says.

She worked on the art project for four or five days at home. But when she shrugs and says she does art projects "here and there," a chorus of protest erupts from her father, Eric Taslimi, and grandparents Mike and Stormy McGauley. "All the time," they say in unison during a photo shoot at the Times Free Press.

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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Eight-year-old Lila Taslimi, the winner of the 2019 Lin C. Parker Wrapping Paper Design Contest, holds a package wrapped in her gift wrap. Copies of the gift wrap are included in today's newspaper.

"Papa Mike" says he showed Lila a gallery of winners of previous wrapping paper contests so that she could get a feel for what the judges seemed to favor over the years.

Dad Eric says she was surprised to see no prior Elf on the Shelf finalists and decided that would be how her design could stand out.

"She definitely had a strategy," he says.

"She put a lot of thought into it," agrees "Nana" Stormy.

A tradition for the Times Free Press since 2002 (and named in honor of its founder after her death in 2017), the contest is open to students in grades 1-5, who are simply asked to draw a holiday theme on a sheet of plain white paper. An original design is a must. Bright colors are recommended.

Finalists are determined by popular vote from judges representing the Times Free Press, ArtsBuild, Creative Discovery Museum and United Way of Greater Chattanooga.

"The precise spacing and quintessentially Christmas color scheme of Lila's design are just two of the factors that led to her victory in this year's Wrapping Paper Design Contest," says Dylan Chesser, special publications designer at the Times Free Press. "Also of importance was the fact that all of her elements stayed within the canvas and did not spill over the edge. This resulted in a design that could be repeated infinitely with little to no change."

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Eight-year-old Lila Taslimi, a third-grader at Bright School, won the 2019 Lin C. Parker Wrapping Paper Design Contest with this design. / Staff photo

With the win, Lila receives a swag bag of goodies and a $25 cash prize from the sponsoring organizations. Her design, which has been enlarged and printed on premium paper on the newspaper's press, has been inserted in today's paper so that readers may use it for wrapping gifts. Artwork by other finalists, including Readers' Choice winner Sophie Stroer, is printed on the reverse side. The United Way also has sheets available at its gift-wrapping stations at Hamilton Place this weekend and Dec. 13-24.

Taslimi says he and wife Shannon gave Lila "a bit of guidance" as she created her artwork, but the design decisions were all hers.

"She'd come and get opinions from all of us, from me to Mom to [little sister] Ava," Taslimi says. "She did a lot of polling and would ask what we thought about different things."

Lila says she plans to compete next year too, but her stiffest competition may come from within the family. Six-year-old Ava will be eligible to compete next year, and she's seen what it takes to win.

"She wants to be in the contest too," says Lila.

Readers’ Choice

Designs by several finalists were posted online at for voting by the public. Ten-year-old Sophie Stroer, a fourth-grader at Nolan Elementary School, was the Readers’ Choice winner. She will receive a $25 cash prize.

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Sophie Stroer, grade 4, Nolan Elementary submitted this design. / Staff photo

Contact Lisa Denton at or 423-757-6281.