Hiding in plain sight in Iowa City during July, just waiting for little scavengers to find him, collect some swag and discover other wonders in two host bookstores and 34 participating shops.
The elusive illustrated man began life as Wally in 1987, from the pen and ink of English illustrator Martin Handford. Across the pond, Wally became Waldo for North American audiences. His look, however, has remained the same: red and white striped shirt; big, round glasses; an ear-to-ear grin; and brown bangs swept to one side, peeking out from under a red and white hat topped with a red pom-pom.
He’s been hiding among the masses in seven “classic” books by Handford, which have sold more than 70 million copies in more than 31 languages. He’s also been the subject of spinoff activity books, poster books, sticker books, boxed sets, anniversary editions, jigsaw puzzles, video games, the Sunday funnies in the 1990s, and a 13-episode animated TV show in 1991 — with a new animated television series in the works for 2019.
Waldo has shown up in more unlikely places, too, like the back of Quaker’s Life cereal boxes, in the Academy Awards scene at the end of “Naked Gun 33 1/3” and in a commercial that aired during Super Bowl 2012.
And now, for the seventh summer, Waldo will be popping up during Find Waldo Local, hosted by 250 independent bookstores across the country, including Prairie Lights Books and Iowa Book in Iowa City.
Pint-size hunters and their families can sleuth their way through shops in Iowa City’s downtown and Northside retail district from July 1 to 31, picking up participation tickets and buttons. Starting and ending points are Iowa Book, 8 S. Clinton St., and Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., where hunters can search for his cutout form and pick up lists of participating stores. After they have collected at least 15 tickets, they can return to either store and enter into a prize drawing for books. Winners will be contacted Aug. 1.
In a new wrinkle this time, several “lost” treasures have been dropped in the bookstores as well: Waldo’s key, Woof’s bone, Wenda’s camera, Wizard Whitebeard’s scroll and Odlaw’s binoculars. Participants need to find at least one of these to complete their scavenger hunt.
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The initiative is a win-win for the hunters and the shops, according to the local and national organizers.
“We are doing it for the kids,” said Matthew Lage, bookstore manager and trade-book buyer for Iowa Book. “That’s the really exciting part, because they’re completely fascinated by the whole hunt. And their parents, to a person, are really lovely and patient about this.”
American Booksellers Association and Candlewick Books launched the initiative to not only encourage summer reading, but to encourage a “shop local” mind-set.
It’s working, because participating shops report seeing increased foot traffic, said Kathleen Johnson, Prairie Lights’ fiction buyer and event coordinator.
“Shop owners have told us that they love it,” she said, “because a lot of people who have come in for ‘Where’s Waldo?’ have come back when they have a need that they know can be met at that store, whether it’s art supplies or clothing or gift items — anything like that.”
Plus, hunters can search at their leisure, as their typically-busy summer schedules allow, Johnson added, and it gets the kids unhooked from technology.
“It gets them out in the world with their families or with their friends,” she said.
The appeal knows no age limit.
“There’s something obsessively fun about the search-and-find aspect of the ‘Where’s Waldo’ books,” Johnson said. “It’s a kid’s book that’s fun for parents and fun for anybody. They’re just such enjoyable books.”
l Comments: (319) 368-8508; firstname.lastname@example.org
If you PLAY
l What: “Find Waldo Local” scavenger hunt
l Where: Downtown Iowa City and Northside District
l When: July 1 to 31
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l Starting points: Iowa Book, 8 S. Clinton St., Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St.; find hidden figures there and pick up lists of participating shops
l How to play: Look for Waldo cutouts hidden in plain sight in the host bookstores, as well as more than 30 participating shops; collect tickets from 15 shops, turn them in at Iowa Book or Prairie Lights to enter prize drawings; look for an extra “lost treasure” at the host sites to complete the hunt