First published in Great Britain in 1968, Flat Stanley is the first of six books by Jeff Brown chronicling the adventures of Stanley Lambchop, a completely flat boy.
My first copy of Flat Stanley, with the original Tomi Ungerer illustrations has disappeared. It has almost certainly fallen apart. Today I am using a 2006 edition, re-illustrated by Scott Nash.
One day the Lambchop family wake to find that their son, Stanley, has been crushed under his bulletin board in the night. Other than feeling ‘sort of tickly’ Stanley isn’t hurt, but he is as flat as a pancake. At first Stanley enjoys his new physique – he can slide under doors, be posted to his friend in an envelope and even used as a kite and a surfboard.
After foiling an attempted robbery at The Famous Museum of Art Stanley becomes a local hero. But soon people begin to poke fun at him and Stanley realises it’s no fun being different…
Flat Stanley is a domestic adventure story. The premise is delightfully ridiculous and by placing the action in a modern domestic setting, children can both engross themselves in the story, and introduce the story to their own imaginative play more readily.
Brown’s language is perfectly pitched for his audience and hasn’t dated in the 45 years since it was written. Text oscilates between being embedded in the story space and sitting apart from it, and, as is par for the course these days, the illustrations add depth to the text and complete the narrative.
“I’m sorry, Mr Dart said, “we don’t have any cowboy pictures here. You must wear the disguise I have chosen.”
Stanley could hardly speak when he saw Mr Dart’s disguise.
“I’ll look like a girl!” he said.
But Stanley was a good sport, so he put it on.
It would be nice if Stanley wasn’t so disgusted at the prospect of wearing a dress (and a peek at the accompanying image confirms he is livid), but his ‘greater good’ attitude is admirable and a good message for children to learn – sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do, it sucks, but we have to do them anyway.
The narritive concludes with Stanley’s brother, Arthur, using a bicycle pump to plump out his brother to his original dimentions. It is luckly for Stanley that he can undo his difference but this is not exactly representative of the lived experience of minorities. Nevertheless, this is a fantasy story and it is in the nature of the genre that these things happen. It is Arthur’s cleverness at coming up with this solution that is celebrated over Stanley’s renewed roundness, and that is a message I can really get behind.