Stanley Lambchop, one of the more unusual heroes in children’s literature, first appeared in 1964 when he was flattened by a falling notice board in his slept. Flat Stanley saw him exploring the world from the unique perspective of someone who suddenly found themselves living a life in two dimensions.
The original book was illustrated by the incomparable Tomi Ungerer, and shares a space on my bookshelf with that other body change children’s hero Treehorn (created by Florence Parry Heide and Edward Gorey).
Until recently I had assumed Flat Stanley was a one off, as he ends the book re-inflated by his brother’s bicycle pump. But Jeff Brown returned to the Lambchop family many times during his career, and following his death the character continues to be written by other authors.
Stanley’s Christmas Adventure is the fourth book in the series, appearing nearly thirty years after the original adventure. The first thing that strikes you is that Stanley is no longer flat. Instead of finding delightful, bizarre new ways to crush his hero, Brown instead allows him to stand as a character in his own right. Problem is he’s a bit of a bore.
Brown clearly realises he’s taking a risk by removing his main character’s USP – the supporting cast express their disappointment almost continuously throughout the book. Santa, who has given up on the human race apart from selfless Stanley, nearly cancels Christmas when he finds out about his unwelcome weight gain.
It’s an odd decision, and one that clearly causes Brown some narrative headaches. We wondered how hard it would be to come up with some alternative flattening scenarios for Stanley. Not particularly.
Despite the central flaw, there are some nice touches in this book, like Santa’s daughter, the poker faced Sarah Christmas, who makes a memorable addition to the festive first family.
These new editions have one undeniable attraction, artwork by the brilliant Rob Biddulph, creator of colourful fantasias like Kevin and Blown Away. Even in monochrome his quirky character design and clever patterns pop off the page.
Flat Stanley has another intriguing legacy, a literacy project that encourages children to write letters to people around the world, accompanied by a paper cut out of Stanley. The recipient then makes a note of the new places Stanley has been and writes back.
My daughter wasn’t that impressed by Stanley, so elected to make a flat Santa instead, sending him along with our copy of the book to a friend in the US.
Which leaves my own paper Stanley hanging out alone on the Christmas tree. If anyone wants him, let me know and I’ll pop him in the post. I’d love to hear where he goes next.
Stanley’s Christmas Adventure is published by Egmont, along with the rest of the series.