by Donald J. Sobol
1963 / 88 pages
Idaville is a small town with an impressive record – no one, absolutely no one, gets away with breaking the law. Most of the credit goes to Police Chief Brown, but he doesn’t really want to take it. If the townsfolk were able to believe it, he’d let them know that the town’s most puzzling crimes are solved, not at the police station, but at the Brown’s dinner table, by his humble, brilliant ten-year-old son Leroy!
In addition to helping out his dad, Leroy, known as Encyclopedia by his friends, also runs his very own detective agency, charging 25 cents a case, plus expenses.
The Encyclopedia Brown series are great books that each include ten short mysteries for readers to solve right alongside our pint-sized detective. In this, the very first one, all the information needed to solve the mystery is included in the story, and the solution is found in the back. And though the mysteries are simple enough that boys and girls in the 9-11 range will be able to solve many of them, they are still subtle enough to present a challenge to adults (I had to peek at the back to figure out a couple of them…and this was my second time through).
As you might guess from Encyclopedia’s pay rate, this is an old book. It was first published back in 1963, so even though many more books have followed, the whole series has an old-fashioned feel and appeal to it. For example, Encyclopedia often has run-ins with the Tiger gang, but this is very much a 1960s sort of boys’ gang – they run minor scams, try to trick kids out of their allowance, and might even start a tussle or two, but the very worst that would result is a black eye or fat lip.
In a nod to the sort of feminism that says women are only equal to men if they can do anything men can do (rather than because we are all made in God’s Image – Genesis 1:27), the author gives Encyclopedia a girl bodyguard. Sobol makes Sally Kimball tougher than any boy, able to beat up even Bugs Meany, the leader of the Tigers. The problem here, I explained to my girls, is that boys need to have it drilled into them that they can never hit girls, even at 10, because whether or not they’re already stronger than girls, they soon will be. Thus girls have to be taught never to take shots at boys because if those boys are raised right they won’t hit back, and it is just cheap to hit someone who can’t fight back. While Kimball’s unrealistic pugilistic prowess makes for some comedic moments at bully Bugs Meany’s expense, thankfully her bodyguard role is only a focus in a few of the mysteries.
The other caution is that, even as this series is sold in some Christian bookstores, God is absent. That’s a minor concern if our kids are reading other books too. But if our kids get a steady diet of stories where God is treated as irrelevant to our daily lives, then that’s teaching our little ones quite the lie.
I read these as a kid and loved the mini-challenge of each mystery. I was happy to see the series was still in print and that author Donald Sobol (1924-2012) had come up with a dozen more since I’d last read them. But I did notice that in one of the later ones – Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret UFOs – two of the ten mysteries required the reader to know something that wasn’t included in the story (for example, “The case of the giant shark tooth” could only be solved if a reader knew that sharks constantly replace their teeth). So the earlier titles are just a bit better than the most recent – no outside knowledge needed.
There are 28 official books in all:
- Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective (1963)
- Encyclopedia Brown Strikes Again (1965) AKA Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret Pitch
- Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues (1966)
- Encyclopedia Brown Gets His Man (1967)
- Encyclopedia Brown Solves Them All (1968)
- Encyclopedia Brown Keeps the Peace (1969)
- Encyclopedia Brown Saves the Day (1970)
- Encyclopedia Brown Tracks Them Down (1971)
- Encyclopedia Brown Shows the Way (1972)
- Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Case (1973)
- Encyclopedia Brown Lends a Hand (1974) AKA Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Exploding Plumbing and Other Mysteries
- Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Dead Eagles (1975)
- Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Midnight Visitor (1977)
- Encyclopedia Brown Carries On (1980)
- Encyclopedia Brown Sets the Pace (1981)
- Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Mysterious Handprints (1985)
- Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Treasure Hunt (1988)
- Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Disgusting Sneakers (1990)
- Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Two Spies (1995)
- Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of Pablo’s Nose (1996)
- Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Sleeping Dog (1998)
- Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Slippery Salamander (2000)
- Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Jumping Frogs (2003)
- Encyclopedia Brown Cracks the Case (2007)
- Encyclopedia Brown, Super Sleuth (2009)
- Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret UFOs (2010)
- Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Carnival Crime (2011)
- Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Soccer Scheme (2012)
If that isn’t enough for your child, there are a few others titles associated with the Encylopedia Brown brand. One of the extra ones is a mystery/cookbook, with all the stories related to food, and each includes a recipe in the solution – it’s called Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake (1982). Then there are a couple of true crime collections that I haven’t been able to track down, but at least one of which my middle daughter has read and really liked: Encyclopedia Brown’s Book Of Strange But True Crimes (1992), and Encyclopedia Brown’s Book of Wacky Crimes (1984).
All the main characters but one are boys, so these are clearly intended as boy books. That said, all my girls have enjoyed them as much as I did. They are great for anyone, boy or girl, who likes wrestling with problems, and while they are best suited for the preteen set, they’ll offer a challenge to mom or dad too, which makes them good fun to read to your kids. And teens and parents who find these too easy can graduate on up to Donald Sobol’s similar but more challenging Two Minute Mysteries series.