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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


The hunt (for books) is on with Tucson Tome Gnome

Tucson Tome Gnome posts photo hints for the locations where they hide 30 copies of a book throughout the Tucson community every month. The other 15 copies hidden are completely random, with no photo hints. (Courtesy of Tucson Tome Gnome)

One Sunday a month, local nonprofit Tucson Tome Gnome hides 45 copies of books all around the city in hopes of spreading kindness and strengthening the community. 

The nonprofit began in the summer of 2021 when Emily Walsh, the co-founder and board president of Tucson Tome Gnome, found herself looking for a way to connect members of the community who were dealing with the loneliness brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Walsh brought up this idea of hiding books to co-founders Mary Ellen Flynn and Jody Hardy, who share her passion for reading. They took a liking to the concept and immediately started working to bring it to life. Since then, they have hidden more than 1,200 books.

“We don’t necessarily see the whole impact of people finding books, but we do hear about it from a lot of our followers,” Hardy said. “One of the big ones early on in the days was an email from a door dasher who happened upon a book, and it made their day. They were so excited because they were having a hard time.

Tucson Tome Gnome actively participates in the community, holding scavenger hunts alongside local businesses such as Borderlands Brewing Company, EON Youth Lounge and Encompass Health

The group has also partnered with the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona and the Tucson Agenda in a Solutions-Focused Community Book Club. The book club recently read “Poverty, by America” by Matthew Desmond.

Tucson Tome Gnome aims to share more books from non-white or LGBTQ+ authors, according to Hardy.

“I think 80% of all our books have fallen into those categories. We really want to do diverse perspectives. Sometimes, there are themed months, like every June, we do a pride read,” Hardy said. “This month, we are doing an Indigenous author.”

Pictured from left to right are Mary Ellen Flynn, Emily Walsh and Jody Hardy, the co-founders of Tucson Tome Gnome. The non-profit organization aims to promote diverse voices. (Photo courtesy of Tucson Tome Gnome.)

The group often picks books that one or two members have already read and loved.

“Empathy, that’s a big part. By choosing diverse reads and having people read about places, things, experiences, people […] who they don’t relate with or aren’t familiar with. Giving them a window builds empathy and breaks down those walls. That’s one of those unseen impacts,” Flynn said. 

In February 2022, TJ Klune, author of “The House in the Cerulean Sea” and “Under the Whispering Door”, donated $7,500 to Tucson Tome Gnome to help the group reach its goals. 

“He has since gotten really engaged, and I think a lot of people don’t realize he spent a large part of his youth in Tucson,” Walsh said. “It really resonated with him that we were doing this in this community that he was really familiar with. He is one of our founding board members, and it’s pretty cool.”

The Tucson Tome Gnome website at contains giveaways, information on the books that are selected and a place where one can donate to support the nonprofit. The donations help fund current community-serving projects and future projects Tucson Tome Gnome devise.

“Thirty of those [45] books are hidden scavenger hunt style. We run around town, we hide books, we take a photo of that book where it’s been hidden and we post that on our social media. The other 15 are split between the three of us, and a week or two after we hide those around town, [with] no hint photos,” Walsh said.

On Dec. 2, Tucson Tome Gnome will be holding a book-hiding event at the Reveille Men’s Chorus Winter Concert. On Dec. 3, there will be another book hunt event in collaboration with Discover Marana.

To find updates or hints for upcoming scavenger hunts and events, follow the group on Instagram @tucsontomegnome!

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