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 Boxcar Children," by Gertrude Chandler Warner. This classic series debuted in 1924 and features four orphans who stumble into mysteries practically everywhere they go. With little or no adult help, they use their wits to catch thieves and con artists.
- "The A to Z Mysteries," by Ron Roy. The series has 26 easy-to-read books starting with the "Absent Author" and ending with the "Zombie Zone" in which young detectives Dink Duncan, Josh Pinto and Ruth Rose foil criminals in their sleepy Connecticut town.
- "Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark," by Ridley Pearson, the first in a series of thrillers. When five teens are turned into holograms at Walt Disney World, they have to outwit Disney villains and witches in an effort to save the theme park and the world outside.
The teen section of the Ashland library is loaded with young-adult mysteries. Esther Mortensen, the teen librarian, suggests:
- "Heist Society," by Ally Carter. The first in a series, the book features 16-year-old Katarina Bishop, who cons her way into a fancy boarding school in an effort to leave her family's art-theft business. When a mobster suspects her father of stealing his already stolen masterpieces, she sets out to find the real thief.
- "Virals," by Kathy Reichs. The author of the Temperance Brennan series featured on the TV show "Bones" introduces Tory Brennan, Temperance's 14-year-old niece. Tory and a group of science-loving friends on a tiny island off the coast of South Carolina get exposed to an experimental parvovirus that heightens their senses and reflexes. With their new gifts and their knowledge of science, they have to solve a cold-case murder that could affect their lives.
Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.