Every July for the last nine years, Candlewick Press has celebrated Waldo, the red-striped character who hides in plain sight, by sending scavenger hunt care packages to a select number of independent bookstores. But with the new coronavirus making in-store activities impossible, the Somerville, Mass.-based children’s press faced the question of whether to cancel this year’s Find Waldo Local.

Instead, determined not to lose track of its wandering character, Candlewick has modified and expanded the program to allow any store to participate, using digital and print materials to ensure that children and families can celebrate safely. The newly revamped Find Waldo Local will run from July to the end of August. Stores receiving the June ABA box mailing received physical materials and ABA members can print from the online toolkit.

“We wanted to keep the interactive element and make the campaign something fun for families to do while also encouraging them to support their local stores,” Candlewick executive director for publicity Karen Walsh said. “Where many stores are still not open or having reduced hours, and with everyone trying to avoid unnecessary physical touching of books, we knew they wouldn’t be able to hide Waldo in the stores for folks to find. So we tried to make the campaign online as turnkey as possible, and encourage consumers to do some of the creative hiding.”

In previous years, Candlewick mailed small, standing cardboard cutouts of Waldo for bookstores to hide around their communities. The new campaign comes with digital and print assets that are only available through indies. Pamphlets were mailed to booksellers to include with curbside order pickups, and a digital site includes games and activities as well as print-your-own Waldos, which customers can color, cut, and hide. Bookstores will also receive special terms on Waldo book orders from Candlewick. To date, more than 75 million copies of the Waldo books have sold in 26 languages.

In 2019, Find Waldo Local was a way for River Bend Bookshop owner Meghan Hayden to introduce her recently opened bookshop to Glastonbury, Conn., readers. More than 130 children participated in the community-wide scavenger hunt passport program, collecting stamps and prizes for finding Waldo. With her store closed to in-person shopping and doing curbside pickup only, Hayden was saddened at the thought of losing the event and worried that Candlewick’s new approach would not be effective. “When the digital event kit went out, I kind of thought, do I have time to read this? Then the flyers came and I thought, absolutely we can do this,” Hayden said. “It’s super clear for families and they get to be in on the fun.”

Hayden is encouraging readers to post photos and plans to do raffles throughout the month. “We think Candlewick did a wonderful job adapting,” she said.

The pandemic has prompted a number of digital initiatives at Candlewick in recent months, from distributing a free Coronavirus e-book to launching an online summer camp for kids. Walsh said the publisher is looking at ways to continue to use digital tools to engage booksellers and readers beyond coronavirus.

“While we obviously hope our bookselling friends can safely open their physical stores soon,” she said, “the need for virtual events and digital materials isn’t likely going away. We heard over and over how little time booksellers have these days, so keeping that front and center, it’s been a fun challenge to figure out ways we can support stores and encourage sales.”

“Most campaigns going forward will likely be a hybrid of physical and digital,” she said, “and booksellers can use whichever elements work best for them.”