Janet and Allan Ahlberg's beloved book, The Jolly Postman, is celebrating its 20th year of letting kids read other people's mail. People, in this case, are famous fairy tale characters, and the mail consists of actual letters and postcards tucked inside envelopes. The story is simple: We follow a busy postman on his rounds, and get to read the private correspondence of each delivery. Meanwhile, the postman gets cup after cup of tea in each hospitable home. It is unaccountably satisfying to reach into a real envelope (with fabulous facsimile stamps and addresses), pull out a folded note, and read what Jack has to say to the Giant, or Goldilocks to the Three Bears. Especially noteworthy are the Big Bad Wolf's letter from Red Riding Hood's legal advisers, and an illustrated supply catalog requested by the Wicked Witch.
Although the chief attraction of The Jolly Postman may be the frisson of permissible nosiness, its enduring appeal must be put down to the utterly charming illustrations and the sheer inventiveness of the concept. The Ahlbergs lavished five years of work on this delightful confection, and the subsequent awards, international translations and millions of sales attest to their success. Note that the anniversary edition comes with free stationery and stickers, which makes it a bonus for literacy and etiquette: Thank-you notes have never been so much fun to write and send!