January 11, 2007


The Flat Stanley Collection. By Jeff Brown. Pictures by Scott Nash. HarperTrophy. $14.99.

     Stanley Lambchop’s adventures started 42 years ago, but he’s still the adaptable and adorable preteen he always was. The Flat Stanley Collection includes paperback editions of four of the six Flat Stanley books: the original Flat Stanley (1964), Stanley in Space (1990), Invisible Stanley (1996) and Stanley, Flat Again! (2003). It’s flatness for which Stanley is best known, but he is flat only in the first and last of these books. He stays round and normal-looking during his space adventure, and looks like nothing much – or, rather, much like nothing – in Invisible Stanley, in which anything that touches him becomes invisible, too (his parents know where he is because they give him a balloon to hold – the string disappears because it’s touching Stanley, but the balloon keeps floating in his general vicinity).

     It is the utter silliness of the Stanley Lambchop stories that makes them so endearing, as Stanley and his parents – along with Stanley’s brother, Arthur – take all the weird stuff that happens to Stanley in stride. Stanley is originally flattened while sleeping, when a bulletin board on the wall of his bedroom falls off the wall and onto him. This leads to his first encounter with Dr. Dan, who of course has no idea of what is going on (although in later books he consults his trusty copy of “Dr. Franz Gemeister’s excellent Difficult and Peculiar Cases”). The family rapidly adjusts to all Stanley’s mishaps, starting with flatness. For example, Stanley ties his shoelaces together and climbs down a street grate to retrieve his mother’s dropped ring, and when police happen by and ask Mrs. Lambchop whether she is playing with a yo-yo, she says, “My son is at the other end of this lace, if you must know.” That leads one policeman to tell the other, “Get the net, Harry… We have caught a cuckoo!” But Stanley quickly emerges with the ring and the police apologize – and that’s about as much violence and conflict as you’ll find in any of these books. Even the threatening aliens of Stanley in Space turn out to be all talk and no action – they’re three inches tall and actually want help, not a fight.

     The Stanley Lambchop books are intended for ages 7-10, but they may be even more fun for a younger age range, perhaps 5-8. The reason is that everything is so good-humored that kids in the 9-10 age range will probably find Stanley and his family silly in the “I don’t want to read this” mode instead of silly in the “this is funny” mode. The books partake of the sensibility of the 1960s, even though three of the four in The Flat Stanley Collection are of far more recent vintage.

     Kids who do read the books will find that as much of the fun comes from the byways of the stories as from the main plots. Take that book that Dr. Dan consults. In Invisible Stanley, it tells him that in “France, 1851: a Madame Poulenc vanished while eating bananas in the rain.” In Stanley, Flat Again! the book discusses a fifth-century case in which “during battle, Mongo the Fierce, an aide to Attila the Hun, was struck twice, simultaneously, from behind, and at once became no thicker than his shield.” All the stories revolve around getting Stanley, among others, out of predicaments – the original Flat Stanley, for example, ends with Arthur blowing Stanley back to normal roundness with a bicycle pump. The solutions are amusing, the stories enjoyable without being in any way scary, and the books – for kids of the right age range – are a great deal of fun indeed. Kids who really enjoy these four may even be inspired to track down the other two Stanley books: Stanley and the Magic Lamp and Stanley’s Christmas Adventure.

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