Pumped Up Flat Stanley



By Jeff Brown


Published by: HarperCollins; Reprint edition (December 23, 2013)

Available in: paperback, hardcover, audiobook CD, audible, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were six books in the Flat Stanley series, as well as another chapter book series titled Flat Stanley’s Worldwide Adventures, and Flat Stanley easy readers.


Full of life.

Flat Stanley, or depending on your copy, Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure!, is the 1964 classic that has spun sequels, a world-traveling second series, easy readers and class projects for decades of elementary kids. So how is he holding up? A little thin, but otherwise just fine.

Stanley’s crushing first incident is told in a quaint style that allows his otherwise unbelievable story to be both enchanting and utterly possible. His parents, both caring and unruffled, are a fun addition, and his brother Arthur is cute in his jealousy and carelessness.

Many libraries still carry the copies illustrated by Tomi Ungerer, and that nostalgic, blockish style seems to support the timelessness of the story. The updated version with Macky Pamintuan’s work is certainly more cartoonish and what kids are used to. As to which is better, it’s a toss up and subjective opinion. I prefer the Ungerer work because it seems a better fit with the slightly antiquated vocabulary, manner of speech and old-time style that is non-specific (such as “the Famous Museum of Art downtown”).

Perhaps the only jarring moment is when Stanley’s parents pack him in a cigarette case and mail him away. Definitely not something relevant to the 21st Century.

In previous posts, I’ve described what some consider the defining characteristics of chapter books. Usually, one has to decide if a book is either a chapter book or middle grade novel. Flat Stanley goes the opposite direction: one has to decide if it fits better as a picture book or chapter book. It reads like a chapter book, but doesn’t have actual chapters, although there are natural breaks in action. The pictures are on every page, but it’s much longer than a traditional picture book. Because of this, Flat Stanley might be a good read aloud to tag-team with your child to ease her into independent reading: you read a page, have your child read a page.

No matter what it’s called or classified, Flat Stanley deserves a thin amount of shelf space in the reading library of any child of chapter book age and ability.

What do you say parents, teachers and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….

Old School Nancy Drew


By Carolyn Keene, Illustrated by Macky Pamintuan


Published by: Aladdin; Original edition (September 9, 2008)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review, there were 37 books in the Nancy Drew Clue Crew series, with many set to launch in 2014.


Thanksgiving Thief is a bit of a curiosity.

The Nancy Drew Clue Crew contemporary chapter book series is, of course, based on the original Nancy Drew brand, which first appeared in the 1930s. In this retrofit, nostalgia plays hard into the ambiance of the book, just as it must drive sales. And while Carolyn Keene has always been the author’s name associated with Nancy Drew, even the originals were produced by ghost writers who appear under the Keene pseudonym.

So there’s all this history lurking in the corner of this series. Which to the young reader probably means nothing, other than the text and illustrations do seem old school, but not in a good way. This book, unfortunately, feels stale, a bit left behind and not terribly exciting.

At the same time, there are some aspects worthy of note. For one thing, this book is an intriguing mystery, which can be a timeless draw. Thanksgiving Thief has a particularly fun, holiday-themed solution that is both novel and on topic.

There’s also a small focus on Native American culture, presented by a Native American character. That’s both appropriate and a nice surprise since Native Americans don’t often make appearances in children’s literature.

And finally, the plot solution shows the consequences of urban development—specifically, how wildlife is affected by suburban encroachment on their habitat. It’s a nicely illustrated lesson with a clear A + B = C flow.

But the children don’t really have the dialogue patterns most children do now, and the vocabulary is a steep climb for a traditional chapter book crowd, which is around second grade. Also, the characters are so good and earnest it’s hard to envision them as real kids. For instance, one character leaves at the first really exciting moment because she promised her mom she’d clean her room. What?

The illustrations are obviously stylized clip art, which gets the job done without offending anyone, but is not very clever or original.

I see a clear audience for these books: older girls (say third to sixth grade) who are perhaps quiet, avid readers and don’t demand much in their books. As much as it makes me happy to provide any kid with books they like to read, this also makes me a little sad. Is this old-fashioned brand the best we can do for these girls?

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….