A NATIONWIDE CELEBRATION of Waldo’s 25 anniversary is underway this month, and, inspired by all the pages he tries to hide on, 250 independent book stores around the country were chosen to participate in localized Waldo hunts in coordination with Candlewick Press and the American Booksellers Association. Byrd’s Books in Bethel, Connecticut was one of those chosen few book stores, and for the past two weeks, children and adults have been hunting through participating stores throughout Bethel for Waldo.
At the center of Bethel’s Waldo experience is Alice Hutchinson and her independent book store, Byrd’s Books. Hutchinson went through the application process for Where’s Waldo month earlier this year with Candlewick Press. It was a challenging process that involved strict adherence to a rubric, which, among other things, required the human Waldo in Bethel, an employee of Molten Java, the coffee shop below Byrd’s, to look just right and not say a word while in costume.
“They wanted us to go through them to buy the costume from their costume supplier,” said Hutchinson in an interview, but she explained that the girls at Molten ended up making the costume.
Hutchinson has a clear orientation towards local businesses, which is one reason she has orchestrated Where’s Waldo in Bethel, which involves 20 other Bethel businesses.
Her store looks and feels like so many book stores you might find in New York City or Boston.
“The stores are very small,” said Hutchinson, “but have a niche.”
Hutchinson explained that since she opened the store, she has tailored her sections to fit the interests of her customers. For instance, she noticed that the mystery section did not sell, while books from local authors sold very well.
So, she dissolved the mystery selection and expanded her shelf-space for local authors, which is developing into her niche, she noted.
“What they said to me was open the book store and see where the interest lies,” said Hutchinson. “And so where the interest seems to be going is local authors.”
Hutchinson, a former First Selectman of Bethel, opened her in Dolan’s Plaza on Greenwood Ave when Molten Java moved its business up the street earlier this year.
Not to be confused with Relay Bookhouse, formerly located next to Molten Java, Byrd’s Books only sells new books.
“Ingram, my distributor, is the same distributor that Barnes and Noble has,” she said. One of the benefits of having Ingram as a distributor is that a customer can order books through Byrd’s and have them shipped straight to their home.
Hutchinson, who also holds a Masters in teaching, does more than sell books in Bethel. She’s a part of several events coming up, a major one being the ongoing “Where’s Waldo in Bethel?” contest, amongst author events and a wine tasting.
“They’re lovely people,” she says of Molten Java, her downstairs neighbors. “It works very well for both of us because we each have a different customer base that blends with the other very well.”
Some observations of the event:
Waldo is not a complicated character, or a morally conflicted protagonist with unwanted baggage or mental anguish. In some respects that makes him an atypical children’s book character. Good children’s books inspire kids beyond entertainment. The Waldo books very well may have been the first unknowing introduction of detective skills to kids. And it has been fun to watch some of the kids that come into the store I work at in Bethel (English Apothecary, 140 Greenwood Ave) looking for the small cutout of Waldo hidden in each of the participating stores.
What is fun about watching kids search for Waldo is how unguarded their humanity is. They enter the store, and but for rare cases they invariably start the search with a hesitant kind of joy that I am honestly jealous of, and then they progress into facial expressions that reveal their worry, possibly even their suspicion that Waldo isn’t out for them to find at all, the fact of which I have had to reassure a few kids of. Yes, he is indeed in the store. No, I will not give you a hint until you look a little harder, but slow down a little bit you’ve passed him twice already. The kids who find Waldo don’t just look around, they examine and observe. The difference simply is the use of detective skills, and the fact that they look rather satisfied when they do find him.
So the little Sherlocks and Sherlockettes have a game that requires developing useful skills. As with many exhibitions, watching the kids who seem to struggle a bit suddenly find Waldo, and without any parental help, is the most fun because they show the most enjoyment and feelings of accomplishment.
At English Apothecary, Waldo moves every couple of hours, or after a few kids have found him, which is also funny because there have been some kids who’ve come back and end up searching for him all over again, despite the fact that they can’t win anymore tickets.
I suppose I’m a bit overenthusiastic about this Bethel-wide game, but it is only because of an idealism that kids who play games that require them to not just think but to also use memory and observational skills will end up playing more and more games like that, get bored with them and then move onto harder and harder games. Those are the kids who are going to invent and discover and innovate things like the non-invasive instant tree in a spray can, or the air conditioned hover skateboard with cupholder, or more realistically: a solution to growing energy problems.
If you have children of any non-angsty teenager age, then consider bringing them around Bethel to hunt for Waldo; the kids who have played it so far have had a lot of fun.
To participate in Where’s Waldo in Bethel, stop by Byrd’s Books to pick up your search list with the names of participating businesses, then collect at least eight “I Found Waldo At…” cards to receive a free Waldo button at Byrd’s (first 100 players). Feeling a little more adventurous? Collect at least 16 “I Found Waldo” cards and turn them in at Byrd’s Books to receive your Waldo button and be entered to win the grand prize at the Where’s Waldo party, taking place on July 31 from 5 to pm at Byrd’s Books. The grand prize drawing is at 6pm, and the first 50 arrivals will receive other small prize.
For more information on Where’s Waldo in Bethel, visit byrdsbooks.com or call the store at (203)730-2973.