I had a hidden agenda when researching my last post introducing you all to two islands, Vrångö and Donsö, in Gothenburg’s southern archipelago. That’s right. We had a secret visitor all week, and we wanted to show her the city in all its contradictory bustle and tranquility. But first, some background for our non-U.S. readers.
It started with a weird little children’s book. In Jeff Brown’s “Flat Stanley” (1964), Stanley Lambchop is flattened by a large bulletin board hanging over his bed. He turns into a kid-sized sheet of paper with a brain and a heart, sneaking around by sliding under doors and playing as his brother flies him like a kite. He goes to visit his friends in California by being mailed in an envelope, and he has adventures there. When he returns, he wants to be a regular kid again, so his brother inflates him back up with a bicycle pump. It’s whimsical and carefree. When Brown wrote “Flat Stanley” in 1964, and I assume that for 30 years people read it and thought “that was cute” and put it on a shelf and didn’t think about it until they were raising kids of their own (or until the book became a book series, relaunching 21 years later in 1985).
The real highlight came in 1995, when a school teacher started the Flat Stanley Project. The project, meant to teach kids about geography, culture, literacy and letter-writing, instructs students aged 7 or 8 to draw “flat” versions of themselves on paper. They mail themselves off with a journal to someone somewhere in the world, who mails them off to someone else, and so on around the world until their paper selves return to the students with letters and pictures and souvenirs in a package. Participants receive a letter asking them to tour the paper students around their town or city, taking pictures with landmarks, going to museums, and visiting other such educational destinations – documenting it all in the journal and with photos. If I’m being realistic, most kids’ paper selves traveled primarily within the U.S. because of shipping costs and limited participant networks.
I was in first grade in 1995, and I didn’t realize how new this tradition was when I would’ve participated 1 or 2 years later at school in North Carolina. In fact, I didn’t think about it as a tradition at all until I received Audrey, a paper student from Pennsylvania – until I started explaining to my friends here what I was doing flitting about town with a small drawing of a child. I’d have to describe the book, how the project became A Thing that lots of American school children do, and why I’m involved now. I’m not sure how widespread the tradition is in 2017, or how widespread it was when I mailed myself away. I do know that the project is way more techy now than in 1997. Kids can see their paper selves’ travels in real-time on Instagram or with Facebook photos. There’s even an official Flat Stanley Project app. Despite the tech upgrade, the flat paper students still return at the end of their trips with some souvenirs and stories to tell.
I had a fun time showing Audrey around town, so I wanted to show you the tour I gave her during her visit in the photos below.
After Vrångö, Audrey went off to Norway for the next leg of her adventure. I hope you liked sharing in her travels with us!
FWIW, if you’re searching for a Flat Stanley exchange, I’d be happy to participate! I love showing off our new home. Just contact me via the form below or drop a comment on this post and we’ll be in touch!