Remembering the Father of Encyclopedia Brown

Blog: 07.17.12

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - 03:16 PM

LeRoy “Encyclopedia” Brown would have turned 50 next year. Since he’s a fictional character, he’ll always stay just ten years old. But all that time, he’s been solving odd mysteries for the kids of Idaville in a long-running series of childrens’ books.

Encyclopedia Brown’s creator, Donald J. Sobol died last weekend at age 87. Studio 360’s Derek John visited Sobol in 2009 and learned the origin story of his famous character, whom he liked to call "Sherlock Holmes in sneakers."

“The first problem that I had with the book was how to make Encyclopedia Brown likable,” Sobol said, “because I remember from my school days the smartest kid in the class was a nice kid. But he didn’t have close friends. People shied away from him. So I had to work at that. I had to make him modest, and I had to make him upright. He doesn’t charge a fortune. He charges 25 cents a case, which is a little bit preposterous but in 1961, 25 cents a case was adequate. Now, it’s funny.”

Sobol sent his first Encyclopedia Brown mystery to 24 publishers before it got picked up by Random House. We’re glad he persisted. As for all the new ten-year-olds still discovering Encyclopedia Brown, Sobol knew his place with them. “A kid’s not really interested in the author,” he said. “And a kid doesn’t go to cocktail parties and discuss childrens’ books.”

Listen to the full story above.


Did you grow up with Encyclopedia Brown? Tell us about your favorite caper in a comment below.


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Comments [3]

Lars Knudson from Dallas TX

I met Donald Sobol when the librarian from my school took me out of class to take me to a nearby elementary school where he was speaking. He spoke for a little while about writing and how writing was more important than publishing because one can always be published later but writing needs to happen now or it will pass with the moment. He answered questions for a most of his time with us and I was struck how he didn't seem quite like an adult but more like a sort of insightful and very smart kid. I was a kid at the time and he seemed like one of us but with extra stuff that made him more interesting than the regular kids that I knew. I was introduced to him afterwards and as he shook my hand I was starstruck for the first time in my life and mustered nothing good to say to account for myself although I never forgot him or my impressions of him. I've often remembered since then that it is a sore mistake to talk down to children.

Jul. 22 2012 08:09 PM
Julia Adams from Springfield, VA

From my son John, age 9: "I started reading Encyclopedia Brown books when I was 7 and I haven't finished all of them yet. It's one of my favorite series. I like to try to solve the mysteries before I get to the answer in the story. I think the best one was Encyclopedia Brown and the Sleeping Dog because I was really worried about the dog so I was very glad when he figured out what was wrong and who did it. If I solved cases I'd charge 50 cents. I'm sorry the author died but it sounds like he had a long life, so that's nice."

Jul. 21 2012 03:17 PM
Dave Joria from Fairfax, VA

I absolutely loved Encyclopedia Brown as a kid, but my favorite memory regarding Donald J. Sobol was one of his other books, Two-Minute Mysteries. We moved a lot when we were young, and moving always required restocking the bookcase. Well, any time we'd throw a number of books into the bookcase, they would inevitably fall over partway through, making the task harder. As a joke, one of the members of our family put the thinnest book we owned, the half-inch thick Two-Minute Mysteries volume, at the end of the stack- as if this tiny book would hold up the many heavy volumes teetering on the shelf. And the funny thing is, it WORKED. For the rest of that shelfing job, the mystery book was moved from the end of one stack to the next, somehow preventing any books braced against it from falling. It was the perfect "bookend" good luck charm. It served the same job in many re-shelving jobs in the future... how it worked, of course, is a mystery.

Jul. 21 2012 03:15 PM

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