When I heard that Donald J. Sobol, creator of the "Encyclopedia Brown" children's mystery series, died last week at age 87, I couldn't help but feel a nostalgic pang. As a kid, I adored his collections of short mysteries and admired Sobol's bookish hero, 10-year-old Encyclopedia (Leroy) Brown. Using only his brain, the young detective helps his police-chief father catch crooks and foils schoolyard bully Bugs Meany.
The "Encyclopedia Brown" series first debuted in 1963 with "Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective." Sobol continued writing up until his death, and his last book, the 28th in the series, "Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Soccer Scheme," will be published in October. I marvel at a man who was able to entertain and inspire kids for nearly 50 years. Though the dialogue is now a bit dated, even Encyclopedia's earliest adventures are still as entertaining as ever.
I think most kids love stories in which the children are smarter than the adults. My kids sure do. As a parent, I like that Encyclopedia Brown encourages critical thinking and quietly defeats bad guys without fighting, yelling or super powers, and that he's secure enough to have a tough girl as his bodyguard.
The secret to Sobol's success was short, funny, easy-to-read stories filled with clues (and a few red herrings) that allow kids to solve the mystery for themselves. Of course, if you can't figure them out, the solutions are also in the back of the book. I admit that I didn't know a Canadian imperial gallon jug holds 5 quarts of water, and so couldn't figure out why Puddinghead Peabody was obviously a no-good liar and cheat in "The Case of the Dog-Paddle Derby."
The Encyclopedia Brown books are great gateway mysteries to get young kids hooked on the genre. The Ashland library's children's section has other mystery series that fans of Encyclopedia Brown may also enjoy. Children's librarian Denise Wilson suggests:
The teen section of the Ashland library is loaded with young-adult mysteries. Esther Mortensen, the teen librarian, suggests:
Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.