Nfld. & Labrador·Blog

Around town and on the road with Flat Stanley

A four-inch paper cutout became a travelling companion for CBC associate producer Christine Davies, who chronicled their adventures for an eight-year-old boy.
CBC associate producer Christine Davies at Cardiff Castle with her four-inch travelling companion. (CBC)

Would I be a Flat Stanley correspondent?

That's how it started at the end of March. A friend in Halifax wrote to ask whether I'd help her eight-year-old son Evan with a school project. I'd never met her son. And I'd never heard of Flat Stanley.

She explained that Stanley Lambchop was a character in the children's book Flat Stanley. One night, while he was asleep in his bed, a bulletin board fell off the wall and landed on him. Stanley was flattened. But that wasn't the end of him. It just meant he could now slip into an envelope and be sent to different people in different places to have lots of new adventures. 

All I'd have to do, my friend said, is take Evan's Flat Stanley to a few places in St. John's, snap a few photos, write a few journal entries about where he'd been, collect a few brochures, and send them back to Evan for a class presentation.

I thought about it for a few minutes. It didn't sound like too much trouble. Maybe it would even be fun. 

I had no idea.

I emailed my friend to tell her I'd be happy to be a Flat Stanley correspondent in St. John's. Then I added, "Why limit it to St. John's? I'm going to Wales and Holland in three weeks' time. Do you think Flat Stanley would enjoy visiting a castle or the tulip fields?"

I hit the send button. Then I thought…what the heck have I let myself in for?

Within a week, I received a package from Evan. He'd sent, inside an envelope of course, his hand-drawn and brightly coloured copy of the Flat Stanley character. The four-inch cutout was laminated. And he included this printed note:

Thank you very much for agreeing to take Stanley for a visit. Stanley is so excited to visit you in St. John's. He likes eating popcorn. He doesn't' like going swimming at all. I am sending along popcorn and a teddy bear with Stanley.   From Evan

Taking Flat Stanley around town

Now it was up to me. I don't have children, so my first thought was: What would an eight-year-old find interesting about St. John's? I wanted this to be more than a travelogue or a collection of photos of old buildings and the ocean (as remarkable as they are). I wanted Flat Stanley to have some different experiences. And I had to write my journal entries for the eyes of a Grade 3 student.

I failed to take into account how difficult cold, rainy, windy weather would make it to stick Flat Stanley on any surface. Scotch tape gave way to masking tape and finally, duct tape. Because I couldn't always stick him on things, I had to hold him at arm's length. Given my limited photo-taking skills, I took plenty of pictures in which either Flat Stanley was in focus — or the background was in focus — but rarely the two in focus in the same shot.  After each adventure, I emailed photos and my journal entry to Evan.

Flat Stanley pays a visit to the iconic Peter Pan statue in Bowring Park. (CBC )

Flat Stanley's adventure at Bowring Park

(An excerpt from my journal.) Our first stop was the statue of Peter Pan. I thought Stanley would like it because Peter was also a little boy. Do you know the story of Peter Pan? Peter didn't want to grow up. He could fly. And he and his gang of Lost Boys lived in Neverland. The statue was put in the park to remember a little girl by the name of Betty Munn who, sadly, drowned at sea.  It's fun to walk around the statue because all sorts of animals are on it. Can you identify them all?  Stanley did.

I swear, I'd never noticed the snail before.

Flat Stanley travels to Signal Hill. (CBC)

Flat Stanley's adventure at Signal Hill

(A journal excerpt.) Signal Hill is a cliff that overlooks the city.You can see the Atlantic Ocean on one side.  You can see the harbour and city on the other side. People come from all around the world to visit because sometimes in early summer you can see whales and icebergs in the waters below. The next time Flat Stanley comes to St. John's for a visit, pack a warm jacket for him.  Although the sun was shining this afternoon, it was bitterly cold on Signal Hill. The wind was blowing hard. 

In fact, Flat Stanley's head was whipping around so much in the wind that I subsequently had to reinforce his neck with a toothpick.

Flat Stanley checks in at The Rooms cultural complex. (CBC)

Flat Stanley's adventure at The Rooms

(A journal excerpt.) Flat Stanley and I went to The Rooms this afternoon. The Rooms is one of the biggest buildings in St. John's. It's a funny name, I know. In Newfoundland, you can have a room in a house. But you can also have a room — which is like a shed — on a fishing wharf. It's where fishermen used to meet to fix their fishing nets, have a mug of tea, and talk. If you look closely, you'll see three smaller buildings — or rooms — make up The Rooms. One room is a museum. Another room is an art gallery. And the third room is the archives, a place where you can find lots of old newspapers and letters and photographs.

Evan thought Flat Stanley signing the guest book was too funny.

Like any child, Flat Stanley can't resist chocolate. (CBC)

Flat Stanley's adventure with chocolate

(A journal excerpt.) The houses on Pilot's Hill are called row houses because they sit next to each other in a row. These houses are more than 100 years old. Around the corner is Duckworth Street. It's one of the busiest streets in downtown St. John's. One yummy store on Duckworth Street is the Newfoundland Chocolate Company. Do you see how the outside of the store is painted light brown, with dark brown trim that looks like chocolate dripping down the building? The entire store is full of chocolate. Stanley sat on a shelf of chocolate bars. Do you see how the wrappers look like row houses?

This was Evan's favourite Flat Stanley adventure thus far. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the chocolate bar I sent him.

When I sometimes sheepishly pulled Flat Stanley out of my purse and explained what the project was, people were keen (after the chuckles) to let me plunk him down just about wherever I wanted. If it was to help kids in Nova Scotia learn a little about the place or the people or the culture or the history here, well, they were in. 

What a conversation-maker Flat Stanley tuned out to be. I found I was paying closer attention to things I had probably taken for granted in the city I called home. I actually had to do a little research for my journal entries to Evan. I was learning stuff that I either hadn't known or had long forgotten.

Up, up and away

I slid Flat Stanley into a new envelope (no, not airmail) for the journey overseas.

My mother and I met in Halifax for our flight to London, then on to Swansea, Wales. Little did she know that we had a travelling companion. Mom immediately joined in the spirit of adventure. She'd hold Flat Stanley in place for me to snap a picture. Or she'd provide a tissue when Flat Stanley accidentally got a little too close to the clotted cream on my scone.  By the end of our trip, Mom was not only suggesting shots, she was recommending camera angles too.

Flat Stanley at the Swansea Market in Wales. (CBC )

Flat Stanley's adventure at Swansea Market

(A journal excerpt.) The market is the largest covered indoor market in Wales. And you guessed it — one of the oldest. There's been a market in Swansea for 800 years. You'll find butchers, bakers, vegetable sellers, flower stalls, and souvenir shops. It's one of my favourite places to visit.  I love Welsh cakes, a kind of raisin cookie, hot off the griddle, dusted with sugar. Two other traditional Welsh foods sold at the market are cockles (like a small clam) and laverbread, which is a kind of minced seaweed. I prefer Welsh cakes!

I'd visited Swansea Market more times than I can remember. But on this trip, because I had Flat Stanley with me, I stopped to chat with some of the people in the stalls. 

They were charmed by the story of Flat Stanley. They were amused that I had brought this paper cutout with me all the way from Canada. 

Ditto on the bus trip to visit the Keukenhof gardens in Holland, via the Eurotunnel. Flat Stanley proved to be a real icebreaker. My fellow passengers began suggesting where and when I should pull Flat Stanley out to take a photo. The bus driver even gave me a luggage tag with Flat Stanley's name on it. The tag was bigger than him!

Flat Stanley takes some time to smell the flowers. (CBC)

Flat Stanley's adventure at Keukenhof

(A journal excerpt.) We were back on the bus to drive to a little town called Lisse, home of Keukenhof — the largest flower garden in the world. A cooler than usual winter and spring meant that many of the tulips had not yet bloomed. The folks at Keukenhof plant seven million flower bulbs — by hand — each year. About 100,000 tulips were planted inside one building. They were in just about every colour you can imagine, even black tulips. The floor of the building looked like a patchwork quilt.

At this point, my camera battery died. I traced Flat Stanley's outline on a postcard and sent it to Evan just in case none of the Holland pictures could be salvaged — just to prove he'd been there. 

I managed to re-charge the battery for one last adventure back in Wales.

Flat Stanley inside the grounds of Cardiff Castle. (CBC)

Flat Stanley's adventure at Cardiff Castle

(A journal excerpt.) On the last day we were in Wales, Flat Stanley and I visited Cardiff. That's the biggest city in Wales. It's also the capital city.You wouldn't expect to find a castle in the centre of the city, but that's exactly where we found Cardiff Castle. The Romans built a fort on this land more than two thousand years ago. There's no moat around the castle. But the walls are still standing all the way around.

In the final photo from our adventures together, I'm holding Flat Stanley in my hand, outside the main entrance at Cardiff Castle. It's the image at the very top of this report.  

"I hope you've enjoyed our travels," I wrote Evan. "Maybe one day you'll visit all these places yourself."

A postscript

We flew back to Canada a couple days later. Evan needed Flat Stanley returned to him, along with the other material I'd picked up (brochures, ticket stubs, candy rock, bookmark, pencil and eraser, etc.), for his presentation. I left Flat Stanley with my sister in Halifax, and then I returned home.

I'd had sole custody and care of Flat Stanley for about a month and a half. We'd travelled through six countries together. We'd visited chocolate factories and castles. We'd toured museums and markets. We'd seen wind on Signal Hill and windmills in Holland. 

We'd had quite a few adventures, Flat Stanley and me. I kind of miss him.

A week after I returned home, I received a card from Evan thanking me for helping him with his project. He enclosed a gift card for a bookstore.

I think I may have to buy a copy of Jeff Brown's Flat Stanley.

Flat Stanley pays a visit to work with Christine Davies, as she handles the phones during an episode of Crosstalk on Radio Noon. (CBC )