• Michael Ireland

Where's Waldo: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words


Waldo appearing through a flag like banner

Parents often have difficulty finding books for children with limited reading skills that will keep them engaged. For those seeking materials to keep children occupied on their own this can present a challenge. Furthermore, young readers that are not quite ready for chapter books or longer reads will quickly find themselves done with their picture books or easy readers. This can be particularly challenging on trips where a metaphorical mountain of these materials would be needed to keep a child entertained without a screen. If only there was a picture book format that engaged readers the way text does. A richly illustrated book that required careful observation and concentration. A book where many small details tell a plethora of individual stories. Perhaps there could be objects hidden in these elaborate scenes for the reader to seek out?


A self-drawing of Martin Handford with (left to right) Wizard Whitebeard, Woof, Odlaw, Wenda, and Wally
Self-drawing of Martin Handford with his characters.

Where’s Waldo, first published in 1987, has delighted readers young and old with its whimsical and chaotic scenes. Known by the title Where’s Wally in many other parts of the word, this long-running series is the brainchild of creator Martin Handford and has set the gold standard for seek and find style books. The series has been popular enough to inspire video games, multiple cartoon adaptations, and a large number of other activity books starring Waldo and his friends. Waldo’s red and white striped apparel have become iconic and his name synonymous with this style of book.


If you’re completely unfamiliar with Where’s Waldo or seek and find books in general, the concept is extremely simple. An activity style book, Where’s Waldo has a set cast of characters to be found in every scene and a number of recurring objects. These characters include the titular Waldo, his friends Wenda and Wizard Whitebeard, his dog Woof, and his ne’er-do-well opposite, Odlaw. Additionally, every scene has a unique list of searches highlighting some unique situations, characters, objects, and visual gags. Each two page search is richly illustrated and teaming with life. Filled with bright and vibrant characters and backgrounds, “Where’s Waldo” is a feast for the eyes.


Where's Waldo? Cover of first book.

Because doing a Where’s Waldo requires little to no reading, books of this style are excellent for any age. Collaboration and competition are also possible when multiple sets of eyes scan the page. Who can find the most characters or objects? Who can find them the fastest? And, can you help me find Woof, he’s really hidden? The accessibility and appeal for young readers helps foster an interest in reading and promotes many important developmental skills such as identifying patterns, looking for detail, and engaging with word play.



Other notable examples in the seek and find genre include the popular I Spy series and Can you see what I see. I Spy is a good example of the variety that can be found in the genre by utilizing photographed sets of unique objects for readers to find with descriptions for each object provided in rhyme. When it comes to seek and find books there is no shortage of creative examples for eagle eyed readers of any age.

I Spy (Book Series) on black background with objects.

The fanciful and energetic scenes concealing Waldo and his friends elicit a sense of wonder in the viewer. I’m a thirty year old man but I immediately feel like a kid again the second I crack open one of Waldo’s many books. My wife and I are currently working our way through the entire series. A word of warning for potential Waldo watchers, the difficulty increases with each book. Waldo and his friends get smaller, more concealed, and the number of people on each page increases as the books go on. What are your favorite seek and find or activity books? Have you become a Waldo watcher? Let us know in the comments below.


Waldo's adventures in order:


Where’s Waldo

Where's Waldo Now

Where's Waldo: The Fantastic Journey

Where's Waldo: In Hollywood

Where's Waldo: The Wonder Book

Where's Waldo: The Great Picture Hunt

Where's Waldo: The Incredible Paper Chase




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