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The Jolly Postman Series | Janet & Allan Ahlberg

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

There's no substitute for a handwritten note, and I think we will always be enchanted with the mail. The envelope, the stamps chosen, the color of the ink, the style of handwriting, let alone fascinated by how it gets to us. There is no standardized template, as there is with communicating via email and text. The sizes, shapes, colors and materials are diverse and can be infinitely expressive. The beloved Jolly Postman is the original interactive envelope book that captures the joy of opening something thoughtfully assembled by one friend for another.

The acclaimed Ahlberg duo wrote about 80 books together, Allan writing and Janet illustrating. When they had their daughter Jessica, she inspired many of their characters and stories that followed. Now Jessica has found her place in the "family biz," and has become a children's illustrator of her own. She's even collaborated with her dad, who went on to write many books after Janet passed away in 1994. I love seeing these portraits integrated into one of Janet's illustrations. You can see they lived and breathed their stories together.

Letters and notes seem to have been a common practice of love and kindness within the Ahlberg family. Jessica shared, "When I was learning to read, my dad wrote letters for me to read when I got up: 'Jessica, this is your dad. I'm in the shed. Later we will go to school.'"* When Janet fell ill, she did not focus on being sick or want to talk about it. She chose instead to say goodbye to her friends, husband and daughter by writing them postcards. She was a shy, kind and compassionate woman, and this gave her the opportunity to say all of the words she wanted each to know and keep. I'm sure these notes, ranging from the mundane to the deeply poignant, were a treasured reassurance of love and comfort.

Here is a peek into just one of the spreads in The Jolly Postman and the envelope contents. The Ahlbergs could have made the envelopes all alike with a templated design, but instead the variety and attention to detail they give makes each mini-story authentic and true to life.

The Ahlbergs took the interactive nature of the envelope a few steps further in The Jolly Pocket Postman. They held nothing back in this one and it's clear they had a lot of fun. This story has not only letters within the envelope pockets, but a pop-up card, board game, map, a circular note, an accordian fold-out and my favorite: a mini book that has an envelope pocket of its own inside with an even tinier postcard within. (Even further... there is an ad for other fabricated books on the mini book's end page!)

The charm of the delicate lines and countless details in Ahlberg's style make this series an endlessly engaging experience that never grows old.

Some newer books inspired by The Jolly Postman series:

Other Ahlberg works:

* from Patrick Barkham's interview My Famous Illustrator Parents for The Guardian


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