East Coast kids will have a chance to ramp up their history and current events acumen this summer, courtesy of Penguin Young Readers’ interactive road trip promotion, entitled the Official Who Was? Ultimate Fan Experience. Produced in partnership with Oasis Productions, the tour’s centerpiece is a wrapped sprinter van adorned with images from the publisher’s bestselling Who Was? line, which will visit bookstores in 12 cities and towns between July 18 and August 3.

After its kickoff festivity in Virginia, at Richmond’s bbgb books, the Official Who Was? Ultimate Fan Experience tour will touch down in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Massachusetts before making its final stop at the Fairfield University Store in Connecticut.

At each event, young attendees (who are invited to wear Who Was?-inspired costumes), can participate in a Who Was? game show-style trivia contest based on the series’ books; create a bobblehead mask modeled on one of several caricatures featured on the books’ covers; pose for a photo in front of an oversized Who Was? book; create a custom zine-style Who Is? biography; cast their votes for whom they’d like to see star in the next series biography; and take a spin of a prize wheel to win a series-themed giveaway.

Francesco Sedita, president of Penguin Workshop, hopes that the thousands of young readers who attend these in-store events will be encouraged to pick up a book for fun during summer break. “Anytime we as publishers can get readers excited about reading—and hooked on history—we must lean in as far as we can,” he said. “We hope the Official Who Was? Ultimate Fan Experience helps to further activate readers’ excitement for reading and for Who Was? this summer by bringing even more fun to their experience of the brand.”

The Evolution of a Middle-Grade Mainstay

Launched in 2002 by former Grosset & Dunlap publisher Jane O’Connor, Who Was? has expanded into a brand encompassing more than 350 titles across nine series, including graphic novels, board books, and workbooks, as well as Who HQ Now, Who Was?, What Was?, Where Is?, What Is the Story Of?, and What Do We Know About? Known known collectively as Who HQ, the books currently have more than 65 million copies in print worldwide.

Asked what he believes fuels the exponential growth and ongoing popularity of the What Was? line, Sedita, who has helmed the series since 2008, responded quickly: “Let’s start with the covers!” he said. “They are collectible, fun, and brimming with detail. We’ve seen that some of our young readers trade the books like baseball cards, which makes me so happy.”

The vast majority of the iconic Who Was? covers were created by freelance artist Nancy Harrison. “When the series was created, Penguin was looking for someone who really got the spirit that we wanted to imbue throughout the series,” Sedita explained. “And Nancy really understood the task!” Harrison, who recently retired, completed her last batch of Who Was? covers this past January.

Sedita was also quick to credit the team responsible for shaping the books’ interior content, which is created by various authors and illustrators. “The goal of Who Was? has always been to deliver accurate, honest, easy-to-digest information—to make our books just as fun to read as they are helpful with book reports,” he noted. “I think the HQ editorial team—Paula Manzanero, director of Who HQ and nonfiction publishing, assistant editor Olivia Luchini, and senior designer Samantha Krause—only gets better and better at doing that.”

And Sedita promised more to come from Who Was? “The exact number of books we publish annually changes, but we will continue to add many titles each year, across all series formats,” he said, hinting that upcoming book subjects will tap into a range of readers’ interests: “We have a robust list for the future—lots of trailblazers coming up, including sports stars, American icons, and more. And let’s just say that if you’re excited for the new Wicked movie, you’re in luck!”