Worth the Candle
The joy of mail is so pervasive that it even creates thrilling language. Special delivery! Hallmark moment! You’ve got mail! No matter if the bill is more likely to be in the mail than the check: Humans love to get mail.
And little humans most of all--which is something illustrator Janet Ahlberg and writer Allan Ahlberg noticed while watching their toddler daughter’s daily exultation over the arrival of the letter carrier. Five years of work later, they’d transformed that observation into a true masterpiece among children's books: The Jolly Postman. It’s a book as interactive as a well-appointed dollhouse, as sweet as a goodnight kiss and as clever as an eggbeater.
The postman of the title rides his bicycle through a fairy-tale kingdom and delivers six bound-into-the-book envelopes that contain six kinds of mail that would delight any child. The Three Bears get a letter of apology/invitation. The Wicked Witch (living in her gingerbread bungalow) gets a catalog from Hobgoblin Supply, Ltd. Goldilocks gets a birthday card (including a one-pound note from the Bank of Wonderland). The postman is welcomed with tea at every stop in his rhymed travels, and while he sips, the book’s readers get to peruse the “other people’s mail,” which is recreated with abundant detail.Child characters use invented spelling; the cease-and-desist letter sent to B.B. Wolf is quiet stern, and the witch’s catalog has the specificity of a cross between Diagon Alley and the Vermont Country Store.)
The book comes shrink-wrapped (so the mail won’t be lost), and bookstore customers tend to overlook it on the shelves where it’s tucked amid the latest fancy pop-ups. That’s a cry-worthy shame. The Jolly Postman is fresher at age 16 than most projects whose ink isn’t dry or whose pixels haven’t loaded. We especially recommend it now--while there is still time for to inspire the sending of handmade Valentines and spread the joy of mail anew.