January 31, 2019
(++++) FOLLOW THE LLEADER
Where’s the Llama? An Around-the-World Adventure. By Frances Evans. Illustrated by Paul Moran. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.
It probably seems as if it has been at least 30 years since parents and kids first encountered Where’s Waldo? That is only because it has been 30-plus years: the first of the immensely popular search-and-find books appeared in 1987, in England, as Where’s Wally? In the three decades since, Waldo (U.S./Canada) or Wally (England and elsewhere) has shown up just about everywhere, initially as the only person in the books and then with a growing cast of one-time characters and an increasing number of recurring subsidiary “find them, too” people (Odlaw, Woof, Wizard Whitebeard and others).
The search-and-find concept in books for kids (and adults) was nothing new when Martin Handford created Where’s Wally? But Handford’s cleverness in the illustrations and his method of dressing Wally/Waldo in readily identifiable red-and-white-striped clothing – then putting in a variety of other red-and-white-striped objects to mislead would-be Wally/Waldo finders – made the books extra-enjoyable. And the concept spread over the years into a wide variety of other “find this or that” books by a wide variety of authors and illustrators.
And now it has spread to, of all things, llamas. That’s llamas, plural. Yes, the Frances Evans/Paul Moran book is called Where’s the Llama? But there are no fewer than 10 llamas to be found here, in every single illustration: Beatriz, Eduardo, Rosa, Luis, Elena, Carlos, Daphne, Ricardo, Nelly, and Hector. All are introduced at the book’s start, and all are distinctive in appearance: Beatriz, the group leader, is white with a brown patch on her back and brown ears; Luis looks as if he is wearing a tuxedo and actually does wear a bow tie; Ricardo sports a Mohawk and leather jacket; Hector is a cria, a juvenile llama, and is two-tone; and so on. Unlike Wally/Waldo, the llamas are not simply visiting various spots where readers need to find them: they “are doing their best to blend in” everywhere, which means they can be even more difficult to track down than Wally/Waldo. And readers need to look for all 10 of them everywhere, so this is quite a quest.
It is also a great deal of fun, because the book really does hopscotch around the world. It opens at Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, moves to super-crowded Miami Beach, then heads to a New York City art gallery, and so on. Evans provides hints that are not quite as helpful as they might at first seem. For instance, at an amusement park in Ottawa, Canada, “Eduardo wants to go on the merry-go-round, while Beatriz and Elena have agreed to take Hector for a nail-biting ride on the flying swings.” That offers a general idea of the places where those specific llamas should be found, but the key word is “general,” since it turns out that there are a lot of areas near the designated attractions that need to be searched.
All the searching is fun, though, which is the whole point. The llamas go to a desert music festival, a Dutch tulip garden, a street market in Berlin, and elsewhere around the world, and they really do a good job of blending in with the locals – or rather, Moran (aided in some of the art by Gergely Fórizs, Jorge Santillan, Adam Linley, and John Batten) does a good job of blending them in. There are some major find-them challenges here, but the artists are fair: all the llamas can be found everywhere with some very attentive searching. The most-difficult and funniest illustration of all is the very last one, “Llama Land,” in which the 10 travelers have returned home to be welcomed by “llamas from all over the country” – which means, yes, picking out 10 specific llamas from a two-page illustration containing lots of them. And if the difficulty of finding the llamas in any picture turns into frustration, there is an easy solution: turn to the back of the book, where answers to all the find-them puzzles are offered. But even those answers are not just answers: each solution is accompanied by a “Spotter’s Checklist” suggesting that readers find certain other, non-llama objects or characters in each of the book’s locations. The result is that Where’s the Llama? is highly enjoyable from start to finish – and how finished is a book like this, really, when even the solutions contain more puzzles? Answer: only as finished as readers/searchers want it to be. Llesson llearned.