By Georgette Eva
Do you have a constant companion when you travel? I do, and I don’t mean my toothbrush or cell phone. No, I mean a dashing little pirate by the name of Captain Jack.
He’s the ideal travel companion. He never complains. He’ll let you decide which restaurant to try. And he doesn’t require air faire.
He’s a wonderful conversation starter too, because when I randomly pop him out to take a picture, someone will laugh and ask what in the world is a grown woman doing with a pirate doll.
Then I’ll laugh, sometimes slightly embarrassed, and explain, that he’s my Flat Stanley. Only—surprisingly—there are some people who didn’t read the Jeff Brown’s Flat Stanley before. Having loved the story, I always figured it was a classic children’s book.
Originally published in 1964, Flat Stanley describes the adventure of a young boy who wakes up crushed by a bulletin board in his sleep. No need to worry though, because he’s perfectly fine and functioning. He’s just one-dimensional. He slides beneath doors. He solves crimes. He hides in paintings. He assimilates to life as a paper-thin human.
There’s an entire series of his adventures, and in one of them, he realizes that he could be mailed to friends in California without spending a dime on an airplane ticket. He’s basically living the dream.
We read the book in elementary school, and we got to design our own Flat Stanleys and send them to pen pals via snail mail. We wrote stories about Flat Stanley’s adventures and excitedly took pictures of him around our classroom. I vaguely remember creating this story where my Flat Stanley could fit into the cracks between the stones in the Great Pyramids.
This was actually part of the Flat Stanley program, which was started in the early 90s by a third-grade teacher to encourage students to write letters. It grew into this large literacy movement, where students connect with one another via Flat Stanley, writing letters, sharing stories, and sharing different traditions.
Today, there’s an app for Flat Stanley to make mailing him easier. The Flat Stanley website also makes finding participating classrooms much easier, and the character even has a Facebook fan page. It’s a pretty neat way to not only use snail mail—e-mail works too—but it also lets students explore outside of the classroom and experience different perspectives in different cities, states, or even countries.
Flat Stanley and my Captain Jack are a little different. For starters, Captain Jack isn’t made of paper but came in a kid’s meal from a fast food restaurant. Also, no one is writing any grand stories or sending Jack anywhere cool.
But Jack does help me connect with people. He starts conversations. He makes people laugh. And sometimes fellow travelers will help me get the right shot with him. People nicely play along when I want to take a picture with him.
What’s more, having Jack made traveling a little more lighthearted, as odd—or lame—as that may sound. I used to hate taking photos or I would get stressed in large crowds, but having Jack sort of egged me on to get take photos, to brave the crowds near that tourist attraction, or to try something new. I think it’s because when I traveled, pictures of Jack became this inside joke to show my family and friends, and I like to surprise them with where he’ll pop up next.