Back in 1914, a five year-old little girl by the name of Charlotte May Pierstorff wanted desperately to visit her grandmother, but her parents couldn’t afford the $1.55 it would cost for a train ticket. Soon her family hatched an ingenious plan and, with the help of a cousin who worked on the mail car of the train and some creative application of the postal code, May was sent by parcel post with 53 cents in stamps on her coat. This true story is told in wonderful narrative fashion and with beautifully detailed watercolor illustrations in the book, Mailing May , written by Michael O. Tunnell and illustrated by Ted Rand.
While reading this story to young children, it is interesting to have them look for clues that tell them this story happened a long time ago. A kerosene lantern, a horse-pulled wagon, the clothing worn by the characters.
After reading, ask the children if they thought they could travel by mail. Probably not. The Post Office wouldn’t likely let a five year old slip by today like they did in Mary’s case! Have the children try to fold up as flat as they can, so that you can put them in an envelope. Doesn’t quite work! Tell them you really wanted to mail them to someone! Ask if they have any ideas for how they could be sent in the mail. (Some may even surprise you by guessing at exactly where you’re going.) Then pull out this body outline. Ask if they think this little paper person could be sent in the mail!
Have the children color the little paper person to look like them. Talk through what they might want to include. “What color are your eyes? OK, so you’ll need two green eyes. And what color is your hair? What are you wearing?/What do you want to be wearing on your trip through the mail? Some may add crowns or colorful scribbles. I’ve even seen a paper person with a cape drawn on the back side of the paper. Because that’s where capes go, of course.
Next, choose between the two letters attached here. One asks the recipients to forward the paper person on to someone else, the other asks them to mail it back to be sent again by the child to another person. It’s a matter of personal preference and objective. Personally, I think I prefer being able to control who is receiving the letter (as in the second of the two letters attached) to increase the likelihood that they will respond. Plus, it includes the extra fun of allowing the child to receive mail (as the paper person returns) as well as send it. You could even encourage the senders to include a note or souvenir in their return letter.
Send the paper people home along with the letter you chose, and a brief explanation for the parents. Soon you’ll be hearing all kinds of stories about where the paper versions of the children have gone! If you want to, encourage the children to print off the pictures they are receiving at home and bring them for a short show-and-tell session, or to post on a bulletin board!
This activity is very much like the Flat Stanley activities you’ve probably heard of. You could certainly use that book to start off this activity, but I prefer Mailing May since the mailing concept is central to the story, whereas in Flat Stanley, travelling through the mail is just one small part of a much broader story.
This activity increases social awareness as the children learn more about the postal system and as they correspond with others. It also incorporates fine motor, creativity, and self-awareness as they create their paper selves.
Enjoy your postal adventures!
For more mail themed activities, check out the Valentines, Friends, and Communication Unit here!