With more than four million copies sold of The Jolly Postman and The Jolly Christmas Postman alone, along with world-wide critical acclaim, Janet Ahlberg’s success as an illustrator was spectacular. Yet she remained shy, modest and unassuming. Her friendliness was remarked on by everyone who met her. Beneath the freshness and humour of her books, though, lies a tough-minded regard for craftsmanship that was also very much a personal trait.
She trained as a teacher but soon found herself far more at home in a studio than a classroom. Her collaboration with husband Allan began with The Brick Street Boys (1975) and culminates, later this year, in The Jolly Pocket Postman – though with Burglar Bill (1977), Each Peach Pear Plum (1978), Funnybones (1980), Peepo (1981), The Baby’s Catalogue (1982) and many other titles to choose from, for most of us it’s impossible to pick a favourite.
Her description of how her books came about was typically unpretentious:
“Usually, Allan tells me an idea, this may be one of a number of candidates – none of which are yet written – and we talk about it, and if we are agreed he proceeds with the writing. I read it, he hopes that I will like it and mostly I do.”
As easy as that… except hours of labour went into both the words and the images.
Janet’s early death, after a two year battle with cancer, has robbed children’s books of one of its brightest, and nicest, talents.