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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Reader's Diary #920- Jeff Brown, illustrated by Scott Nash: Stanley's Christmas Adventure

One of my very first blog posts was about the change in Marc Brown's beloved aardvark Arthur. While I've gotten few comments on the post, it's my most popular post of all time, still drawing in visitors. Basically I called Brown out for changing Arthur's appearance after the first Arthur book being all about Arthur coming to appreciate his appearance and ultimately deciding against rhinoplasty. It's made worse by the fact that this is never addressed in subsequent books. (Brown himself justifies it by stating that it simply makes Arthur easier to draw.) I mention this because Jeff Brown also created a popular children's character with a unique physical appearance: Flat Stanley.

First created in 1964, Stanley is a regular boy until the day that a bulletin board falls on him. His face is horrifically deformed, his left leg suffers from severe nerve damage, and he must carry a colostomy bag for the rest of his life. Nah, I'm kidding. He's just left flat. A 2D version of his former self. Like Michael Keaton. At the end he's blown back into shape with a simple bicycle pump.

Flat Stanley was a hit. Children's authors, of course, aren't averse to sucking at the teat of capitalism, and instead of chalking it up as a success and trying to top it with a brand new creation, Brown instead goes all Numeroff on Stanley and turns him into a series. Only why did he have to fix Stanley? Drat. Kids wouldn't be interested in a three dimensional Stanley. Before being flattened Stanley was Harriet Winslow. Flat Stanley was Urkel. Slapping "Flat Stanley" on the cover of subsequent books didn't really make sense, but it's not as evil as getting ghost writers to pretend they're VC Andrews long after she's dead. And in Brown's defense he at least had the decency to crush Stanley once more in the last book he wrote for the series.

In Stanley's Christmas Adventure, the third book in the series featuring a full, plump Stanley, Brown goes one step further to remind us of the character's history. Though even Santa seems disappointed that the Stanley before him is no longer flat. Who hits a homerun for the kid after his cancer has been cured? It doesn't help that Stanley and the rest of the Lambchop family are nauseatingly good.

The cranky Santa Claus saved me from getting a toothache while reading this book. When Santa has grown bitter that children have grown selfish and don't really appreciate Christmas anymore, his daughter enlists Stanley's help to convince him that there are still some good kids out there. Reluctantly Santa concedes, throws a couple light sabres in his sleigh for the remaining good people in the world and heads out, hopefully back in time to watch Cousin Eddie emptying his sh*tter into the gutter.

Wait. Back the sleigh up. Did I say Santa's daughter? That's right. Looks like Brown wasn't completely out of creativity after all. There's also a whole town at the North Pole. And so as the secret doesn't get out when the Lambchops get back home, Santa erases their memory. 4 years before Men in Black. Now, my inner folklorist (who I like to introduce as Grimm Chandler Dunkleman, esq.) loves when writers play with Santa mythology. My outer, lying-SOB parent-self, cringes when I read such liberties to the kids. Daddy, why have I never heard of this daughter before? Oh dear God, the jig is up! It's all been a colossal sham! There's no daughter, and there is no Santa Claus! And the wise-men were of only average intelligence!  Fortunately, my kids are at that perfect age. They already have their schemas (schemata?) of Santa. Instead of questioning it, they just shrug it off as Brown being a bit of an idiot. He can't even decide whether or not Stanley should be flat, what does he know about Santa? Whew.

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