Donald J. Sobol, author of the acclaimed Encyclopedia Brown series of children’s mystery books, died last Wednesday of natural causes. He was 87.
The author released his first book in 1963 after receiving dozens of rejections. The series went on to sell millions of copies around the world and helped children become amateur sleuths, and, more important, taught them to question and quest through the mysteries around them.
Sobol was born in New York and graduated from Oberlin College. He began his mystery-writing career by creating “Two Minute Mysteries,” a syndicated column dedicated to darker mysteries of murder and deceit.
Encyclopedia’s (real name Leroy) MO was simple – the mystery unfolded over a few pages in a story replete with clues and macguffins. Encyclopedia’s nemesis – unmatched in wits by far – was Bugs Meany, who led a gang of boys in an endless quest for mischief. The solution to each case then appeared at the end of the story. Sobol wrote over 80 books and new Brown capers appeared almost every year, including a 50th anniversary title, Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Soccer Scheme, scheduled for this year.
Fans of the books will recall the pleasure of solving each mystery or, if you were a nasty little cheat like me, simply reading them straight through to the solutions. Either way, the books taught critical thinking skills and made it clear that people could get things done with their minds rather than their brawn. It is a lesson that has served three generations well.