The Jolly Postman
by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Sparrow Tree Square age recommendation: 4-8

The Jolly Postman, or Other People’s Letters must be one of the most endearingly original picture books in print. As its subtitle indicates, the book capitalizes on children’s (and, to be fair, most grown-ups!) fascination with opening other people’s mail: envelope-style pockets in the book hold actual letters, cards, and even catalogs to pull out and read.

But The Jolly Postman’s true charm lies in its fractured fairy tale sensibility. You see, the Postman is delivering mail to the Three Bears, Hansel and Gretel’s Wicked Witch, Jack’s Giant, Cinderella, the Big Bad Wolf, and Goldilocks. The Postman’s travels from house to house are recorded in rollicking verse: “Once upon a bicycle, so they say, a Jolly Postman came one day, from over the hills, and far away....”

The story employs gentle humor to good effect in both its text and illustrations: adults will laugh at the catalogue advertising “Big Broom for the larger witch, as seen on TV,” while children giggle at a picture of the Wicked Witch’s cat washing dishes in a frilly apron. Furthermore, the book is brimming with clever allusions to nursery rhymes and fairy tales of all sorts. Even the postmarks on the envelopes, when closely inspected, yield amusing references. If you settle down with a cup of tea (the Postman’s drink of choice), you’ll find plenty to pore over for hours.

A well-executed modern classic, The Jolly Postman, or Other People’s Letters is highly recommended to children, snoops, and fairy tale afficionados of all ages.

Reviewed by Maureen Friel