surprise!…a list of five books packed with mysterious envelopes to open and magical flaps to lift

the goldilocks variations cover imageThe Goldilocks Variations, or Who’s Been Snopperink in My Woodootog?, words by Allan Ahlberg, pictures by Jessica Ahlberg

This is the story of a “cheeky girl” named Goldilocks, who, as you well know, entered the home of three innocent bears, wreaked havoc upon porridge, chairs and beds, then bolted when discovered. Of all the nerve!

Thankfully, poor baby bear was given a lovely little bun later on that day.

Bears love buns!

Bears love buns!

Bears love buns, in case you didn’t know.

Had you heard, though,  that Goldilocks also visited the enormous cottage of 33 bears? And snooped in a spaceship (more properly called a trood)where lived three darling little Bliim? And entered a cottage occupied by a blithering bunch of fairy tale folk, where much pandemonium took place?!

And that’s not all! Allan Ahlberg has written a marvelous melange of stories starring this saucy gal, co-starring, delightfully, the humble

Sweet! This tiny pop-up book is inside the book...it's a 3-act play!

Sweet! This tiny pop-up book is inside the book…it’s a 3-act play!

Sugar Bun, quite soothing and delectable to Bears. These stories are sprinkled with Jessica Ahlberg’s charming, teensy, watercolor illustrations  — wee beds and overstuffed chairs, bitsy, colorful crockery, and oodles of small brown bears, not to mention the pert, sea-green, four-legged Bliim. Irresistable.

Rocketing the whole package up to sonic levels, are the wonderful add-ons: tabs to pull that transform a picture, like pulling the blind on a window; a tiny book-within-the-book containing an off-the-charts-darling 3-act play of Goldilocks performed with the help of dozens of bunnies; even a mighty-handy picture dictionary of Bliim vocabulary! This pleasingly-plump book is chock full of goodies that will light up the corners of your heart.

Gah! I’ve been waiting to get my hands on this book since I first caught wind of it. Published just last year, it’s the loving work of an extraordinary, beloved children’s author and his talented daughter. A birthday treat for ages 5 and up if ever there was!

The Jolly Postman, or Other People’s Letters, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

the jolly postman cover imageDecked out in a royal blue uniform, a bulging satchel slung over his back, riding his sturdy red bicycle, the jolly postman toodles up lanes and over the hills delivering letters to all your favorite fairy tale friends.

First up is a letter for Mr and Mrs Bear at Three Bears Cottage in The Woods. There is an actual envelope here, folks, complete with a charming postage stamp and postmark. Reach inside the envelope, pull out the letter — ah! it’s a sweet note from Goldilocks, apologizing for her mess. Her handwriting is quite clear, though her spelling wobbles (as Pooh Bear would say), and she’s drawn such cheery little illustrations on it, plusthe jolly postman illustration janet ahlberg invited Baby Bear to a party.

After a cup of tea with the Bears, it’s back on the dusty trail for the Postman. He’s got a lot of letters and parcels yet to deliver to folks including the Wicked Witch, Jack’s giant, even Cinderella herself! Each has it’s own, particular envelope, and inside –my, oh my! — all sorts of goodies: an advertising circular, a picture postcard, a teensy storybook…

This gem was also written by Allan Ahlberg. Janet Ahlberg, his late wife and  illustrator of their classic collaborations, gave us  these quintessential, endearing pictures of dapper bears and idyllic countrysides, teapots and biscuits, and the steadfast, jolly postman. What child can resist the excitement of pulling out the items tucked in these fantastic envelopes? My copy is battered, torn, and stained from so many, many readings with my young children.

Almost 30 years old, The Jolly Postman is a treasure for ages 4 and up. (Gotta know those fairy tales first.)

the hidden alphabet cover imageThe Hidden Alphabet, by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

As with so many of her books, this remarkable alphabet book by Laurathe hidden alphabet illustration laura vaccaro seeger Vaccaro Seeger is tricky to describe, and magical to experience.

Each page consists of a wide black frame, pierced by a die-cut, rectangular or square opening. These openings are windows to  hidden pictures beneath, and each one shows us an object beginning with the corresponding letter. So, on the “B” page, an opening shows two balloons, one cherry red, one lemon yellow, floating against a blue, star-spattered sky. It’s the hidden alphabet illustration2 laura vaccaro seegerlabeled: balloons.  Lift the black frame up, and what you see is the entire letter B, with the balloons revealed to be the circular bits making up the letter.

On the “W” page, the window shows a little blue wave, licking up against a sunny yellow background. W is for wave. Open the black frame and you see that the wave forms the triangular shape at the bottom of the capital W.  Brilliant.

Enthralling transformations on every page, and dramatic color schemes will capture the fancy of children too young to know their letters, and adults who learned theirs decades ago. Imaginative…satisfying… fun!

boat works cover imageBoat Works, by Tom Slaughter

Ahoy there! I’ve got a riddle for you. In fact, I’ve got six.

Each riddle in this book begins with the question, “What am I?” Those bold, black words are stenciled onto the left hand side of a two-page spread, along with a tantalizing glimpse of a boat — but we are only seeing boat works illustration tom slaughterone quarter of the entire picture, which makes it quite tricky to guess just what kind of boat it could be.

On the right hand page, though, there’s a clue and a picture: I have two oars. Hmmmmm…..what kind of boat has oars? Give up? Lift up that page, which is entirely a flap, and voila! there’s another picture and clue: I have a rope that ties me to the dock.  What’s more, lifting up that flap has revealed another quarter of the scene. And when you unfold the top section, which is another flap, the whole puzzling scene is complete. A gorgeous, red rowboat floats along the dock. I’m a rowboat. Fabulous!

Fold everything up, and we’re on to another riddle.

Tom Slaughter’s striking designs are big and bold, in bright, primary colors, ready to grab the attention of young skippers. The completely, folded-out pictures measure 17×17, so they’re a brave, galumptious armful for a toddler. Sturdy pages will stand up to hundreds of readings, which is what I would predict for this snappy book!

the birthday present cover imageThe Birthday Present, by Bruno Munari

Once there was a truck driver who wanted to take a dandy birthday present to his son, John.

He starts out on in his large, yellow truck, but alas! 10 miles from home, his truck breaks down. Rats.

Happily, he is able to trade that truck for a snazzy green car. Bad luck for him, though, because at the nine-mile mark, it also stops.

This determined driver has to use all manner of transport, right down to his bare feet, before he finally arrives at home with the enticing red-and-white-striped

Photo by Thuy-Tien Crampton.

Photo by Thuy-Tien Crampton.

package. What can it be?!

This has to be one of the most unusual formats in a book I’ve come across. Its pages gradually decrease in size, so you uncover smaller and smaller pages as you go, a bit like the Russian Matryoshka dolls with that tiniest one tucked deep inside.

First up is a giant yellow lorry. Turn the page and a smaller, green car is printed on smaller paper. Turn that page and a gleaming, red motorcycle is on even smaller paper. And so it goes as our hero journeys mile after mile, encountering breakdowns all along the way. Midway through, the pages begin growing in size again until he reaches home. There, a boxy brown house awaits, with a little door to open: “Hello, lucky little birthday boy!” On the final page, the tantalizing package is there to be opened. Ooh la la!

Bruno Munari was an influential Italian designer who took pleasure in designing creatively for children in the midst of his other work. I was happy to come across Thuy-Tien Crampton’s blog where she discusses his art far better than I could, and I thank her for the work she did to create the photos of the book you see here. (Check out her gorgeous clothing for children on her Facebook page, too. The whole page exudes such a beautiful, delightful,

Much more likely to be found in your library.

Much more likely to be found in your library.

summery-childhood feel. )

This book, from 1945, is one of about a dozen Munari created. Sadly, it’s not in print, but is still held in some larger libraries. I got my copy for a few cents at a library sale, though I notice they’re being sold for exorbitant amounts on-line. If you cannot find it, I’d encourage you to check out one of his other titles.

Here are Amazon links for all these popping, flapping, jolly-exciting books!
The Goldilocks Variations: A Pop-up Book
The Jolly Postman
Boat Works (Giant Fold-Out Books)
The Hidden Alphabet
The BIRTHDAY PRESENT.

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