Gnomes have been popular in folklore for centuries, and the latest twist to their legend is the induction of "My Gnome on the Roam," a whimsical white figurine that comes in a suitcase needing a name, an identity, clothing, and accessories. Children ages three and up are encouraged to adopt the gnome and then design him in a way that renders him a family mascot. The gnome comes with his own storybook including a journal filled with blank pages and a pen so that children can log updates about their gnomes’ adventures.

“My Gnome on the Roam” was inspired by a paper doll called Flat Stanley who became a trend among kids several years ago. Like “Elf on the Shelf,” “My Gnome on the Roam” is a toy that aims to bring families together through play, imagination, and storytelling.

Nashville-based inventor Anne Armstrong started a company to promote the product, of which she is the Founder and Chief Creative Officer. As a mother and a teacher, Anne has always been interested in learning about other cultures and visiting different places.

In fact, her middle school students even dubbed her “The Field Trip Queen.”

In an exclusive interview, Anne recently discussed her experiences working on “Gnome on the Roam” and her hopes for the future of her character and company.

Creativity, imagination, and gnomes

Meagan Meehan (MM): What gave you the idea to create "Gnome on the Roam" and how long did the entire product and app take to develop?

Anne Armstrong (AA): The idea was actually born from a dream and my own adorable three-year-old kid.

At the end of my days in the classroom, preparing dinner, bath, and a little time to read, there was simply not enough time for quality time (adventures, creativity, and imagination). I wanted to create a way to incorporate little pieces of fun and magic into our little pockets of time. Being a lifelong educator, inventing was not familiar territory for me. But I always taught my students that "if you can imagine it, you can create it." So, I decided I'd better step up as an example.

While the book came relatively easily, finding the exact right gnome and all the other details took about one and a half years. We did lots of fun market research by taking our ideas to booths at festivals and fairs to get feedback from kids and families.

MM: The "traveling gnome" character has become very famous via a commercial campaign, so was he an inspiration in any way?

AA: While the “Travelocity Gnome” is adorable, he was not an influence. In fact, we worked hard to make our gnome super different and more "youthful." We discovered that some kids find gnomes scary, so we set out with our artist to make sure our gnome was super sweet!

MM: You wrote a lovely storybook to go with the series, why did you decide to include a girl and grandmother character rather than a parent?

AA: Unlike every single other sorry I ever wrote, I didn't plan this story. I dreamed it. And then...I sat down, put my pen to paper, and the story told itself. I had no ideas in mind, but as I opened my notebook, they came. I wrote, and those are the characters who wanted their story to be told. I do hope that through the story, people will be inspired by the fact that the kit can be used by anyone who wants to build deeper connections through adventures and stories.

MM: You encourage kids to dress up their gnome and make their own adventures so what are some of unique storylines and costumes you have seen?

AA: One of the best parts of this work is seeing the limitless creativity and imagination folks have and share. I've seen a vampire gnome named "Vlad," a rainbow superhero gnome named "Rudy," and even a solid gold gnome named "Knox." We have a “Chicago Cubs Gnome” who was after the World Series, and a mermaid gnome is wearing a gorgeous tail and seashell bikini top. The ideas and their inspirations are endless.

App, stories, and future goals

MM: What have been some of the highlights of the consumer feedback you've received?

AA: I've seen families take their gnome to baseball games, the beach, and the local park. We've had a gnome travel to New York City and another to Thailand. One blogger/reporter called our product "possibly the most important toy you'll ever own." And she said it in tears...it's so amazing when people can envision our kit as a part of their family life. They create whole stories around it, and it becomes a keeper of memories and a creator of magical adventures.

MM: What features on the app do you think children will find the most fun and useful?

AA: Having a "Rolodex" filled with ideas for fifteen-minute adventures when the "what can we hoodoos'" it will be a giant tool in their toolbox.

The journal, also part of the app, gives families an opportunity to take notes to remember an adventure or even create a shopping list of items they need to begin a particular project.

MM: What are your biggest goals for the future of "Gnome on the Roam" and what events are you planning for the series soon?

AA: Our mission is to empower busy families across the globe to connect, create and explore together in little pockets of time. We have new products that will launch in 2018, and we are excited to build a community of adventurers through events like our twenty-four-day ADVENT-ure leading up to the holidays and of course, our very own holiday, “Gnome Your Neighbor Day” which is held in April.

Even though I created this kit for busy families, it's really perfect for anyone who wants to build more creativity into their lives. My goal is to keep the fun going for a long time to come. I recently changed the packaging to reflect that our kit is designed for folks ages 3-103!

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