Genre Kryptonite: Hidden Object Books

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Ever since this column’s debut, I’ve been searching inward for the book genre that I find irresistible for no particular reason, as the description goes. I’m pretty diverse in my reading habits (really, I only shrink away from horror, self-help, and a couple other things), and I jump around often enough that I couldn’t really identify one specific theme I just keep coming back to more than others. That is, until I started playing I Spy with my students during playtime.

Though I typically enjoy being outside and messing around with my students, they’ve shown a preference for tag lately and I seriously hate running (of course, tag with me means I’m always “it”). So I turned to the school library. There’s no better place than that to interact and play with the kiddos AND avoid sweating my butt off running outside.

During playtime (for Japanese elementary schools, there are usually two recess sessions: one mid-morning, and one after lunch), many kids elect to stay indoors and read or rest, and I noticed there was usually one corner of a long table crowded with a few students playing with an I Spy or similar hidden object book.

imageJoining them in the game didn’t just provide me with an engaging distraction for 20-25 minutes: it helped me create new bonds with my students, who now had the ability to communicate with me through pictures in an adorable role-reversal (“Do you know what this word means? Hold on, I’ll find it and show you.”). The delight I feel in finding everything in the riddles on those pages is a familiar joy I’ve felt throughout most of my life. I grew up playing with the Where’s Waldo? books, even playing a video game version back in the day. These days, I usually have one of them handy for bedtime.

As if the universe needed to have its say, my mother’s birthday gift to me this year (besides a cute pair of owl earrings, since they’re my favorite animal) was a travel-sized collection of all the Waldo books. You might call it coincidence, but I think of it as the serendipitous confirmation that hidden object books will probably always be a constant in my life. I’ve also come to think of my love of them as the reason I’ve ended up loving puzzles in general – particularly ones that rely on powers of observation.

I realize this column usually ends up being more of a list of recommendations, but it felt more appropriate to share my story instead. I also realize that calling the Waldo books “hidden object books” is weird since most of the things one is tasked to spot in those are actually people and not things at all. I just lack a better term for this. Finally, I don’t have a list because I kind of like them all. So I’ll just recommend the book I’ve just received, called Where’s Waldo? The Totally Essential Travel Collection. Its size is perfect both for travel and the bedside table, where I keep it along with a book light.