Squashed in an accident with a noticeboard, Flat Stanley inspires children's caring and creativity and offers them a passport to worldwide communications. Carolyn O'Grady reports
At St John's and St Clement's C E Primary School in Southwark, seven-year-old Tabitha is pushing a little flat figure of a boy into an envelope along with his "passport", accompanied by a letter she has written. It reads: "This is Flat Stanley. I would like you to have adventures with him. He got squashed by a bulletin board in the night. He likes eating apple and raisin all the time. His bed time is 7.00pm. Please take care of him," followed by her signature. The character she is giving such a careful send-off is Flat Stanley, otherwise known as Stanley Lambchop, the hero in a series of adventure stories for young children by the American author Jeff Brown. The series includes Stanley in Space and Stanley and the Magic Lamp, and this month Stanley stars in a new picture book.
The joy for children of Stanley is that he is flat - squashed in the night by a falling noticeboard. And it is this quality in particular which has enabled Stanley to take on another life, as the centre of an international educational project. In the stories, Stanley discovers that being flat has advantages: he can slide under doors, hide in places which are not accessible to the three-dimensional, be flown as a kite, and - Jbest of all - be posted in an envelope.
In the Flat Stanley project, which began in the US and Canada and has now mushroomed to take in more than 6,000 classes in 47 countries, schools are encouraged to send him to friends, relatives or other schools. Recipients of Stanley are asked to keep a diary of his adventures, and possibly to take pictures of him while he is in their care. Classrooms in many countries are decorated with pictures - Stanley in exotic locations, Stanley on planes, Stanley with celebrities. Stanley, in other words, is well on his way to being a star.
Jane Four, Year 2 teacher at St John and St Clement's, focuses her Flat Stanley project on literacy and geography. "The children have been really excited by the project," she says. "They don't often have occasions to write letters, and having to make up their own character profiles was really good for them. They came up with all sorts of details about Stanley's routine - what he ate and his bedtime, for example." They had recently had a whole-school "One World" week and "this was a lovely follow-up".
The project began with a reading of the first Flat Stanley book, which decribes how Stanley came to be flat and recounts his first adventures.
Children then made their own Flat Stanleys from a template, and took him home for the weekend. The results, now on the wall, include descriptions of how Stanley nearly fell into the garden pond, complete with a photo of him on its bank; how he played with the dogs, went to a ballet lesson and accompanied a family to a restaurant.
The children are now ready to post their Stanleys with letters they have written themselves the previous day. On the wall is a large world map which highlights some of the places he will visit, including Ghana, Jamaica, South Africa, Australia and locations in the UK. The envelope also includes a letter from Jane, explaining the project, a return label and, if he is going abroad, Stanley's passport, which has a picture and details which the children have filled in. They find Stanley's destination on the globe and colour it in on a map.
The lesson ends with a Flat Stanley word search and a discussion on what would happen next: a class visit to the Post Office, perhaps; the need to weigh the letters; choosing the stamps and airmail stickers; Stanley is on his way.
* The Flat Stanley website offers free support, resources and a list of participating schools www.flatstanley.com Flat Stanley, the picture book by Jeff Brown, illustrated by Scott Nash, is published by Egmont, Pounds 10.99pound;5.99. Small Flat Stanley paperbacks cost pound;3.99. www.egmont.co.uk
Christine Neild, who teaches a mixed Year 34 group, has been organising Flat Stanley project activities in a range of subjects for many years, including:
In the books, Stanley is posted to California. Look at the distances involved and compare the US with the UK.
* In one story, Stanley is sent down a drain to retrieve his mother's ring.
Children can test various metals to see if they respond to magnetism.
Stanley's mother's ring is gold, so cannot be retrieved with a magnet.
* In the first book, Stanley is turned into a kite. For a topic on air, children can create their own kites with Flat Stanley faces of different weights and sizes, and test their aerodynamic qualities.
Discuss and design a bedroom for Stanley to scale (he has become shorter as well as flat), which takes into account his flatness.
In the first book, Stanley camouflages himself within a painting to catch thieves. Children can be given small templates of Flat Stanley to camouflage into their own paintings.
Taking the distances from the geography project, convert kilometres into miles. Find places Flat Stanley has visited and determine their distance from the school.
Look at Americanisms in the book.