Waldo is here

International phenomenon hiding in more than 20 Morgan Hill businesses

Photo: Robert Eliason

For the month of July, there’s at least one correct answer to the question that generations of parents and children have been asking each other over and over again.

So before you ask, let’s stipulate that Waldo is, in fact, in Morgan Hill.

To be any more specific than that—well, that’s where the fun comes in.

Throughout July, the Morgan Hill bookstore BookSmart continues the tradition of hosting a month-long event known as Find Waldo Local, during which kids (and former kids) can crawl over town looking for small figurines of everybody’s favorite candy-striped adventurer to earn prizes.

Twenty-five Morgan Hill businesses have agreed to welcome Waldo (or at least a six-inches-tall representation of him) into their shops, and then hide him anywhere within the public space of the business. Carrying their FWL “passports,” would-be Waldo hunters can then collect stamps from each business—provided they can actually find him.

“We’ve done it for several years now,” said BookSmart’s Brad Jones. “Every year, the publisher (of Where’s Waldo?) picks 250 independent bookstores. And since they’ve been doing it, we’ve only been not selected one time. They just told us, ‘Hey, we have to give it to somebody else this time.’ But we do a lot of promotion around it. It’s great for the community, and we have a blast.”

At BookSmart—now in its new location at Vineyard Town Center about halfway between Nob Hill Foods and TJ Maxx—Waldo will share the spotlight with his villainous nemesis (and yellow-and-black doppelganger) Odlaw. And Waldo hunters will have to find them both. In every other participating business, however, Waldo is flying solo.

Waldo hunters who collect 20 stamps on their passport will then be eligible for a drawing with prizes donated by the participating businesses to be held July 31 at BookSmart. Local businesses include California Sports Center, Bike Therapy, Thinker Toys, GVA Café, Anime 101 & Manga Too, Craft Roots Veggie Grill, An-Jan Feed & Pet Supply and many more.

“Find Waldo Local is a big boon for local businesses,” Jones said. “Lots of times, people don’t really know what’s in their community and when they go to their local businesses, it’s like, ‘I never knew we had such a wonderful this or that.’ A couple of years ago, we had an art gallery downtown (participating in the promotion) and she said, during the month of July, the only visitors she got were Waldo visitors.”

Where’s Waldo?, created by artist Martin Hanford, has proven to be a durable publishing phenomenon, a picture-book empire that has delighted kids for more than 30 years. It was first published in 1987 in the U.K., where it was (and still is) known as Where’s Wally? In the children’s book industry, it provided a bridge between Dr. Seuss and the Harry Potter series, which first appeared a decade after Waldo.

This year’s Waldo promotion marks a turning point in the up-and-down fortunes of BookSmart. Last year, Jones—who owns the shop with his wife Cinda Meister—was not only dealing with major surgery, but the store was in danger of closing its doors at its former location on East Dunne Avenue.

The move to the Vineyard Town Center earlier this year has given the story a new lease on life, said Jones.

“The new location has a lot more foot traffic,” he said. “We have an amazing landlord who has been working with us to make it happen. I think we’re going to be here for a long time. We dug a really deep hole at our other location. We had trouble getting people over there and it was very expensive. But though we dug a deep hole, now we can see that we have the ability to throw some dirt back in that hole. Maybe some day, we’ll be able to see out of it.”

In the meantime, Waldo is reminding kids and parents in Morgan Hill that the bookseller is still around and in a new location, ready to lead a promotion that covers the entire city. It all starts with the passport at BookSmart.

“The kids come in looking for Waldo,” Jones said, “and they’ll ask for hints. We tell them no, and then give them a hint anyway. It’s fun.”

For information on Find Waldo Local, visit www.mybooksmart.com.

Who’s Waldo?

A few things you may not know about the international book-publishing phenomenon known as Where’s Waldo?:

Waldo was originally conceived in the U.K. where he is known as Wally. Only in the U.S. and Canada does he go by the name Waldo. In most other countries, he is Wally. But in Norway and South Africa, he is Willy. In Germany, he is known as Walter and, for some reason, in France, he is Charlie.

Where’s Wally? was first adapted into an animated television series in 1991, and lasted only one season. But the franchise returns to TV this month with the new Where’s Waldo? series debuting on Universal Kids on July 20. The new animated series features Waldo as a 12-year-old boy with a female best friend named Wenda. Among the voices featured in the show is Weird Al Yankovic and Tom Kenny, known as the voice of SpongeBob Squarepants.

The current record for most people dressed as Wally/Waldo in one gathering is 3,872, which took place in Dublin, Ireland in 2011.

At least eight video games have been developed licensing Waldo.

The size of Waldo in the book series has gradually been decreasing, making it more challenging to find him in the crowd. In the first book, Waldo was about one square centimeter in size, but by the fourth book, he had been reduced to about .20 square centimeters. The other characters surrounding him correspondingly increased to roughly four-fold.

At least one artist painted a giant image of Waldo on an undisclosed rooftop in Vancouver, B.C. to give eagle-eyed Waldo buffs a chance to find him on Google Earth.

The famously red-and-white-striped character has sold more than 55 million books worldwide and has been translated in more than 30 languages.

Wallace Baine
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About Wallace Baine
Wallace Baine is a staff writer for New SV Media with extensive experience covering community arts in the region.