Birthdays! Everyone loves birthdays, right?
So, guess who is turning 25 years old?
Can you believe it? Waldo, the children’s book character, has been blending into his surroundings for a quarter of a century!
Yup, our friend Waldo – “Wally” to many – was globe-trotting more than a decade before Matt Lauer of The Today Show parlayed his “Yoo-hoo, where am I?” shtick to the bleary-eyed masses. (Waldo even conquered “flat” before “Flat Matt” photo ops became all the rage.)
Yup, Waldo was a young man ahead of his time! He had the hipster look locked up 20 years ago – with black-rimmed glasses, skinny pants, and his I-don’t-care-enough-to-care-that-I’m-wearing-a-LOUD-red-and-white-stripey shirt and matching beanie. He did Bieber bangs before Justin was a twinkle in his parents’ eyes, and I suspect he invented coffee, too.
Best of all, Waldo and his creator got millions of kids interested in reading books. British illustrator Martin Handford first drew “Wally” into crowd scenes back in 1986 at the bidding of his art director at Walker Books. The next year, the first book in the “Where’s Wally?” series was launched in the United Kingdom. The books were published in the United States under the title “Where’s Waldo?” by Little, Brown and Company and later by Candlewick Press. Since then, an estimated 55 million Waldo books have been printed worldwide.
In the following 25 years, Waldo has inspired video games, a TV show and a comic strip, as well as a bazillion Waldo-themed social events. In New Brunswick, N.J., in 2009, 1,052 Rutgers University students, alumni and community members set a Guinness World Record during a fund-raiser after dressing like the elusive character. The following year, Dubliners rallied in Ireland to smash that record with 3,872 red and white look-alikes in Dublin’s Merrion Square.
If you are in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula this month, you can look for Waldo in one of 20 businesses in the Houghton/Hancock area by participating in the “I Found Waldo” contest. The businesses will give out token cards, buttons, books and other prizes. Participants who collect at least 80 percent of the contest cards (16) will be eligible to win a six-volume set of Waldo books.
Proprietors in Naperville, Ill.; Hudson, Ohio; and even my city, Greenville, S.C., are among the those across the nation taking part in the “Where’s Waldo? on Main Street, USA, campaign sponsored by Candlewick Press and the American Booksellers Association. Some of my favorite local shops are taking part: The Elephant’s Trunk, Palmetto Olive Oil Company, Swamp Rabbit Café and Grocery, and Fiction Addiction book store (which is moving off Woodruff Road to Woods Crossing Road this month).
Where will Waldo show up next? I can’t say, but I do know that the co-hosting spot next to Matt Lauer is a revolving door: Katie, Meredith, Ann, Savannah, TBA. Perhaps Waldo would stick. He and Matt could duke out dibs on NBC’s travel budget!
Where’s Big Universe Learning? Right at your fingertips, 24/7. A vast source of online children’s picture books, Big Universe has 24 publisher partners and 4,504 books available covering all academic subjects. The award-winning learning community’s science, social studies, language arts and math books have been read 4,387,980 times by 333,682 members from 169 countries. Teachers, students, parents, homeschoolers and other members have created 58,518 books online using the site’s authoring tool.