Dear Aunt Debbie,
In the last few weeks, I've been in a lot of contact with HarperCollins and the students who I worked with to create "with their eyes: September 11th: the view from a high school at ground zero." HarperCollins is reissuing the play later this month, with an updated introduction from me, and one of the things they needed to do was to get back in touch with Ethan Moses, who took the amazing photos used in the book (he was a high school senior at the time), to get permission to use the photos in the new e-book.
I tracked Ethan down in Paris, where he's working at the moment, and was rewarded with a long, lovely email from him about our blog. In part, he writes:
My grandmother was also an NYC public school teacher, and a wonderful reader and teller of stories. She used to tell us (my sister and two cousins and I) stories about Moshey Poshey, who was a little boy who always got into some sort of trouble. I don't know if they were in part handed down, or just made up on the spot, but they always seemed new and fresh, although he frequently got into trouble somehow while hiding in piles of laundry. My mother could never tell them the same way, and I don't know if I will ever be able to piece them together properly. I only have a metric that I must some day live up to in my storytelling career.
She read me Flat Stanley quite often, about a boy who was flattened by his bulletin board one night in his sleep. Flat Stanley has all sorts of adventures, like being flown as a kite by his little brother, and folding himself up and mailing himself to a friend across the country. I remember that he had a cigarette box to put a sandwich or some water or something in, and I wanted an empty cigarette box too. It must have been from the forties or fifties. My mom's take on it was that it was about learning to live with disabilities, and accepting people for their differences, skills and competencies -- but I actually never picked up on that until she brought it up sometime in the last year.
This rang a bell for me. I've participated a couple of times in Flat Stanley/Flat Charlotte projects without knowing too much about them other than that they seemed like a neat way for elementary school kids to explore geography and get a kick out of sending and receiving real letters as opposed to email. I didn't know that the original 1964 book, written by Jeff Brown, was illustrated by Tomi Ungerer, of Moon Man fame.
It turns out the Flat Stanley Project was started in 1994 by Dale Hubert, a Canadian 3rd grade teacher, and has grown to become international. (I'm pretty sure cousin Ona did one with her kindergarten students a few years ago.) The basic idea is that a class prints out Flat Stanleys (or any one of the multicultural options that are now available as well, including several in camouflage) and sends them to other people: students at other schools, famous people, friends. Some of the projects include taking pictures of Flat Stanley in a variety of places. We were recently tagged in a "Flat Charlotte" project, in which we didn't receive a paper doll but were asked via a sort of chain letter to write a postcard from our hometown back to the school where Charlotte started, and to send the letter on to someone else.
Flat Stanley has exploded in books as well, with a newly illustrated version and sequels with titles like Flat Stanley's Worldwide Adventures #3: The Japanese Ninja Surprise. Not sure how much that one will lead to actual cultural exchange....
It seems like Flat Stanley has come a long way from his original roots. What are your thoughts on the phenomenon?