If you are not familiar with the literary character dressed in red and white striped jersey, beanie
hat, and black glasses named Waldo, then you have never been around kids or libraries. Waldo is the featured character in the "Where's Waldo?" series of children's books that are now sold all over the world. Over 58 million "Where's Waldo" books in over 30 languages have been sold to date.
The "Where's Waldo?" books are rather unique. There's very little to actually read in the books, the point is to actually find Waldo amongst some very detailed pictures and scenes. It's great fun for kids of all ages. Being an ex-media specialist and librarian, I am no stranger to Waldo. We even kept them on the shelves of my High School library because even teens enjoyed the books.
What surprised me, after reading an article in today's L.A. Times about the celebration of Waldo's 25th anniversary is how widespread and popular Waldo has become. I learned several things about this literary icon. For instance, he is of British origin. (I always thought an American author dreamed him up). Now that he is 25 years old, Waldo is expanding his brand. He will become a category on Jeopardy, he will grace the side of a NASCAR racer, he is printed on all forms of clothing and there's even a "Waldo" pair of glasses available. This should come as no surprise to those who know that all things in pop culture eventually get marketed.
Waldo has been everywhere and even got into a little trouble in 1987 when one scene featured a beach scene with a woman who had one breast exposed. Considering that this is no big deal in Britain or Europe, Americans are less tolerant of casual nudity and for a while Waldo was banned until a new version replaced the offending image.
What I find particularly effective and charming about the "Where's Waldo?" books is that they are very engaging for young children. They exercise perception and eye to brain coordination and visual acuity. They subtly encourage children to strengthen their powers of observation,imagination, deductive skills and joys of discovery. In short, they are perfect for little minds that are developing.
For years the "Where's Waldo" books sat rather passively on shelves but I'm happy to report that they are enjoying a renaissance and rebirth. Kids are once again discovering them and seeking them. This is a good thing. It spurs imagination and is a wonderful way to get kids interested in books before they can read themselves. With a new granddaughter in my family now, I am definitely planning to get some "Where's Waldo?" books....but I would bet serious money that in every picture we view, my granddaughter will probably find Waldo faster than I! And therein lies part of the fun of sharing these books with young kids.