Around the world in an envelope: Flat Stanley is the world's most traveled paper doll

Posted 4/20/18

In 1964, a young man named Stanley Lambchop woke up one morning and realized that a bulletin board had fallen on him during the night, smashing him as flat as a pancake.Oddly enough, it was the best …

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Around the world in an envelope: Flat Stanley is the world's most traveled paper doll

Posted

In 1964, a young man named Stanley Lambchop woke up one morning and realized that a bulletin board had fallen on him during the night, smashing him as flat as a pancake.

Oddly enough, it was the best thing that ever could have happened to him.

From turning invisible to being sent into space by the U.S. government, two-dimensional Stanley had all kinds of adventures in the six books that author Jeff Brown completed before his death in 2003.

In 1994, a Canadian schoolteacher named Dale Hubert turned to Flat Stanley to encourage literacy in his third-grade classroom.

"I'd come across a vague reference to 'Flat Stanley' and for some reason it resonated with me. The book was almost out of print and I had to special order it. When it arrived, I realized that the part where Stanley visited his friend in California by traveling in an envelope could be the hook I was looking for to engage my new students," Hubert says on his website, www.flatstanleyproject.com.

Hubert's idea was to essentially create a combination pen pal and student exchange program around Flat Stanley.

Students in one class would decorate a paper cutout of Stanley and mail him to a classroom in a different part of Canada or the United States.

Several weeks later, Stanley would be mailed back to the classroom from whence he came along with photos, souvenirs or a journal about his travels.

When the Flat Stanley project began, the internet was in its infancy. Hubert's students couldn't run to Google when they wanted to learn about a part of the world different from their own. Their school had only one computer with internet access.

For that generation of elementary school students, Stanley was their passport to far-off places. 

In 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Flat Stanley Project was active in 6,000 classrooms in 47 nations.

"I can remember that we sent a Flat Stanley to Australia and it came back and the people told us it had spent some time in a kangaroo's pouch," Hubert told CNN in 2005.

Stanley experienced a surge of popularity in the 2000s. 

In 2002, astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour hosted a Virginia student's Flat Stanley on a 14-day mission in space. (Stanley had previously traveled to space in 1994 and in 1999, both times on the space shuttle Discovery.)

In 2005, Clint Eastwood brought his daughter's Flat Stanley to the Academy Awards.

In 2006, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took his 9-year-old son's Flat Stanley to bill signings, a debate with a Democratic challenger and an appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno.

Flat Stanley has been photographed with three U.S. presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama), two secretaries of state (Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice) athletes (Richard Petty, Muhammad Ali and Peyton Manning) and a host of other celebrities.

Last year, my son checked out the first Flat Stanley book from the Jasper Public Library during their summer reading program.

We soon sought out more titles from the original series, as well as "Flat Stanley's Worldwide Adventures," a series started after Brown's death in which Stanley travels the globe.

That led me to Hubert's website, where I was especially interested in the Flat Stanley soldier templates.

I reached out to Amber Parsons at Bankhead Middle School and asked if her son, Steven, who had recently joined the U.S. Air Force, would host Flat Stanley for a little while. 

Stanley went through basic training with Steven, visited New Orleans with him and his mom after graduation and traveled across the ocean with him when he was assigned to Royal Air Force Mildenhall in Suffolk, England.

So far, we have received photos of Stanley visiting the control tower on base, hunting rabbits, taking a sightseeing trip to London and standing by as a B-52 landed on base.

Wyatt and I have loved following along with the adventures of Stanley and Steven. 

We've very grateful to Steven for indulging us, to Amber for passing along the updates and to Brown's sons, who got this whole thing started over 50 years ago when they asked their dad what would happen if their bulletin board fell on them in the middle of the night.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.