I realize handwritten letters is not as popular anymore and have largely been replaced by electronic mail but I still think a handwritten letter, or drawings is a very personal and warm way to communicate love and thoughts.
When I was eight years old, my classmates and I attended a month long ski camp in the Alps. I loved it – however I missed my family terribly. My mother’s long letters describing our family life, stories about my siblings, visitors, our cats poured from the pages, and I was transported back to our home life in Villeneuve-Le-Roi. I would read and re-read her letters, tucking them under my pillow at night.
When I began college in the US and my parents moved back to France, those aerograms in my mailbox were like rays of sunshine breaking through the clouds on a rainy day! I still have all of those letters my mom sent me in a keepsake box.
Here are a few picture books I would recommend on letters and letter writing. I hope they will spur you and your children to take out that special stationery or sharpen those pencils and send love in an envelope to family and friends from afar.
The Jolly Postman by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Janet Ahlberg (1986)
For ages 4-7
This fun interactive book (each page contains a pocket that a child can reach into to pull out a letter, card or note) is a British classic. In an imaginary fairy tale village, the “jolly” postman delivers letters to well-known characters such as The Three Bears and the Wicked Witch from Hansel and Gretel. Written in rhymes, this hilarious and witty collection of letters is a must-read. I also recommend The Jolly Christmas Postman.
“Once upon a bicycle,
So they say,
A Jolly Postman came one day,
From over the hills
And far away…”
The Post Office Book: Mail and How it Moves by Gail Gibbons (1986)
For ages 4-8
Gail Gibbons is a genius at taking a complicated subject matter and bringing it down to the level a four-year-old can understand. In this non-fiction picture book, Gibbons explains the whole process of how mail gets to it’s final destination. Although it is a bit dated and machines do a lot of the work described, it is still helpful to children to get a picture of the postal system.
Dear Mr. Blueberry by Simon James (1991)
For ages 3-7
This book is a series of back and forth letters written by a little girl to her school teacher, while she is on vacation on the coast of Massachusetts. In the first letter, Emily tells Mr. Blueberry that she saw a whale in her pond and asks for information about whales. Of course, her teacher responds that it cannot be a whale in her pond because whales don’t live in ponds. These series of letters are both informative, imaginative and amusing. The illustrations are warm as well as comical. The simple vocabulary makes this also a great choice for early readers. I love this book and I know Dear Mr. Blueberry is sure to become a favorite at your house too.
A Letter to Amy by Ezra Jack Keats
For ages 3-8
Ezra Jack Keats has written more than 85 books for children and was awarded the Caldecott Honor for Goggles and the Caldecott Medal for The Snowy Day. In this story, Peter is having a birthday party. He decides to send a special invitation to his friend Amy, but things don’t go as planned when he sets out on a dark, stormy and windy day to mail it to her. Ezra’s trademark artwork is a world of collages, depicting an African American boy, Peter and his friends in an urban setting, with it’s cacophony of old buildings, graffiti, street signs and storefronts. Make sure your home library features books by this gifted artist and storyteller.
Dear Juno by Soyung Pak, illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung (1999)
For ages 3-7
This book brought tears to my eyes. I know what it’s like both as a child, but also as a parent to have grandparents living far away. This
simple, yet deeply moving story is about a young Korea boy who exchanges letters with his grandmother who is back in Korea. Although he can’t read Korean, and she can’t read English, they communicate with photos, mementos and drawings. The illustrations by Susan Kathleen Hartung were created using blotted oil paint glazes on sealed paper. It’s affect creates simple but intimate scenes either depicting Juno and his thoughts about his grandma or the grandmother’s, alone, loving opening and treasuring Juno’s letters. The message is clear: a simple drawing or letter can convey so much love, love shared across thousands of miles. I highly recommend this – it may spur your child to “write” to their grandparents.
“This warm, simple, yet richly woven story informs readers that even in this electronic age there is nothing like mail received from afar to tie together family and friends.” Library Journal
Don’t Forget to Write by Martina Selway (1994)
For ages 4 and up
Rosie is going on a solo visit to see her grandfather and her aunt Mabel on the farm. She is very apprehensive, to say the least, but heads off promising to write. The rest of the book is a series of letters that Rosie writes to her mom about her experiences on the farm. The first four letters end with “I want to go home”, but the tone of each letter becomes more and more positive and enthusiastic as she shares about her experiences on the farm. In the last letter, she asks: “PLEASE, can I stay a little longer with Grandad?” The beauty of the rolling hills and simple country life comes shining through the watercolor pastels illustrations on the left side page with a copy of the letter on the opposite page. Each letter is topped with teddy bears depicting various activities mentioned in the letter as well as a memento of the day at the bottom of the letter. Since the book was originally meant to depict an English countryside, you will notice the illustrations are not true to Vermont (an issue that PW considers inexcusable) but I think this makes it all the more endearing. If your child has been to England make this into a game – what do you see that looks more like England then Vermont?
The Long, Long Letter by Elizabeth Spurr, illustrated by David Catrow (1996)
For ages 4 and up
If you ever eagerly waited for letters and felt bitterly disappointed when the mailbox was empty, this hilarious book is for you (and your kids will enjoy it too). Aunt Heta is lonely. She reminds her sister that she has not written to her in a very long time.To remedy the situation, her sister writes her a long, long letter (as in boxes and boxes full). Many burnt dinners and many months later, the letter is ready. It is packed up in boxes and mailed off. Unfortunately, a storm blows all the boxes open on route to aunt Hetas, scattering all the pages. But the long, long letter arrives nevertheless, covering the mailbox, the rocker and aunt Heta! The town folks comes to her rescue and in the process aunt Heta learns that the town she lives in is filled the caring people and she is no longer lonely – thanks to the long long letter. The illustrations will have everyone laughing! A hilarious story the whole family will enjoy!
Never Mail an Elephant by Mike Thaler, illustrated by Jerry Smath (1994)
For ages 4 and up
If your family ever tried to mail an odd shaped or oversized object before, this amusing, bordering on the absurd, will have your kids laughing and pointing at the hilarious illustrations. One day, a boy decides to mail his cousin an elephant for his birthday. What follows is a series of comical and slap-stick scenes depicting all the creative steps involved in mailing off the reluctant elephant. Things obviously do not go as planned and pandemonium erupts at the post office!
Mailing May by Michael O. Tunnel, illustrated by Ted Rand
For ages 4-8
This is a true story of a family who “mailed” a little girl. The book is set in the early 1900s when the Post Office first introduced domestic parcel post service. The true story is: in 1914, five-year-old Charlotte was “mailed” to her grandmother for fifty-three cents! This fictionalized version is told from the child’s perspective. Mailing May is illustrated with large true-to-life watercolor paintings (think Norman Rockwell) that depicts the time period as well as smaller sepia-toned paintings of photographs beside it which adds a sense of authenticity to the story.
May begs and begs to visit her grandmother, but the family is poor and a first-class ticket on the train is not in the budget. But when all seemed hopeless, cousin Leonard, who works for the railway comes up with an ingenious plan! This book will remind children that where there is a will there is a way.
Stringbean’s Trip to the Shining Sea by Vera Williams and Jennifer Williams (1988)
For ages 4-8
From the author of A Chair For My Mother (love, love, love) and her daughter, comes this travel log from a young girl named Stringbean. Her and her older brother set out from Kansas in an old truck with a trailer in the back for sleeping. They stop along the way in different places before reaching the coast of California and the Pacific Ocean. Stringbeans writes postcards to her family back home. This travel book includes handwritten post cards, photos, sketches and information about points of interest as they travel from place to place. A unique and original picture book which will inspire your children to start their own travel scrapbooks. It’s also a great supplement to a social studies unit on the United States. If you like this picture book, I also recommend Vera Williams’Three Days On the River in a Red Canoe.