Nearly four years ago, designer Conor McGlauflin was trying to come up with a birthday present for his niece. Around that time, he also recalled losing five socks in a row. Thinking of how ridiculous it was to keep losing socks, he had the idea to make a story about it. After a year and a half of workshopping, trading feedback with his family and others, and refining the project with his agent, his debut picture book, Sock on the Loose, was launched by Macmillan’s Roaring Brook Press imprint on February 23.

McGlauflin said he aimed to create a “relatable mystery,” something that would be fun to “go through and read with your kid.” The sock-filled adventure follows Blue Sock, who journeys in search of its missing half but ends up discovering much more. The book, which McGlauflin both wrote and illustrated, has garnered much attention due to a digital campaign with the hashtag #SockOnTheLoose.

Created by Morgan Rath and Kenya Baker from Macmillan’s publicity and marketing teams, respectively, the campaign was designed to be a fun family activity. A group of parenting bloggers were recruited and received copies of the book along with a single sock. The idea was to decorate the sock and post a photo of it in the hopes of finding its other half. Bloggers would browse other accounts, using the hashtag #SocksontheLoose, to look for their matching sock, commenting on the posts and following each other’s accounts along the way. “One thing I really loved [about the campaign] was that it really tapped into a core message of Sock on the Loose, which is the idea that although losing a sock can be frustrating, it can also be an opportunity to be creative,” McGlauflin said. Rath agreed, saying: “The second Kenya and I read Sock on the Loose we knew we wanted to do something creative and out of the box, matching the silly nature of the book.”

Dozens of bloggers took to social media with their decorated sock and personalized stories: Kathy Minas of The Caterpillar Corner and her daughter Lucy created the bedazzled, “fabulous-haired” Koolba, who left for a hair appointment and now “really misses her other half”; Ashley Silvera of Bookish Realm had lots of fun “coloring, planting kale, and even sunbathing” with pink-haired Tyler; Lauren Neil of Picture Book Playdate and her daughter made the most of the Texas snowstorm with the aptly named Starry.

Bloggers across the country enjoyed the inventiveness of the challenge. “People were intrigued by the whole idea of socks going on adventures and ‘being on the loose’” Silvera said. And Minas said she loved how “a seemingly simple and relatable issue” like losing a sock became such an “amazing experience.”

As of March 1, most every sock had found its match. “I haven’t heard back from a few, but that’s okay too,” McGlauflin said with a laugh. Even if a match wasn’t found, the kids’ Bookstagram community had a new means of interacting through this challenge. “We were visiting the Instagram accounts of many other bloggers who were equally as passionate about books and reading,” Minas said. From the outside looking in, “seeing bloggers from around the country connect with each other through socks” was a “fun bonus element,” Rath added.

A large component of the campaign was the involvement of children. “One of the best things about all this is that there’s a prompt for more silliness and creativity with kids, something that was directly connected to my hope for this book,” McGlauflin said.

During a time where no physical book launches can take place, McGlauflin stated, “campaigns like this are necessary and really magical” in being able to overcome limitations. McGlauflin gave Rath and Baker for a big shout-out for “inventing a new easy way of launching books and taking people along for the ride.”

Fans of Sock on the Loose can look forward to more books from the author-illustrator. “One I’m working on right now is the mystery of where thoughts come from,” McGlauflin said.

Sock on the Loose by Conor McGlauflin. Roaring Brook, $18.99 Feb. 2021 ISBN 978-1-250-30457-5