Do you harbor fond memories of the boy detective who worked out of his garage? Do you remember his tagline? “25 cents per day, plus expenses – No case too small.” Do you recall how he wasn’t afraid to take on the sniveling bullies and stand up for the little guy?
I came by my love of mystery early in life, so it’s no surprise that some of my earliest memories come from reading Donald J. Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown books. I loved matching wits with the boy detective and spent lovely summer afternoons racking my brain, refusing to turn the page and look at the answer until I’d solved the case.
Passing the torch
When my children were small, I revived the fun by sharing the Encyclopedia Brown books with them so we could solve the mysteries together. Reading the books out loud with my children brought it all back—the nerdy boy in his make-shift office, complete with gas can for a cash register. Bugs Meany, the local bully and budding criminal. And Sally Kimball, Brown’s best friend and detective agency partner—with bodyguard and sidekick written into the job description.
Curious to see if Brown was still around, I did a little digging and found that a new generation of Encyclopedia Brown is alive and well, capturing a rising crop of mystery lovers. It gives me pleasure to think of young people today savoring those stories as I did, exercising the little grey cells, learning, growing, and simply enjoying the thrill of detection.
I found the books—in paper, electronic form, and audio—at my local library and on Amazon. And I also found a fun series of Encyclopedia Brown videos on YouTube, really worth checking out if you’ve got young ones at home or just want to enjoy a shot of nostalgia.
What you may not know about Encyclopedia Brown
Every year, the Mystery Writers of America honors the best in mystery fiction by giving out the Edgar Allen Poe Awards, popularly known as The Edgars. In 1976, they awarded Donald J. Sobol a special Edgar for his Encyclopedia Brown series.
Did you know that Encyclopedia Brown was a daily and Sunday comic strip? It ran from December 3, 1978, to September 20, 1980 and was syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate.
In 1989, HBO ran a live action television series based on the books (referenced above on YouTube). The show was produced by Howard David Deutsch and directed by Savage Steve Holland, known for the John Cusack films Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer. Parts of the series were filmed in Provo, Utah.
And there may even be an Encyclopedia Brown feature film in our future. In 2013, Warner Bros. optioned the books and started negotiating with directors and producers.
Teachers take note
I also found that educators in the 1980’s used Encyclopedia Brown in the classroom to help students develop writing skills such as selecting a topic, gathering information, taking notes, making an outline, revising and editing. There’s even a filmstrip series with accompanying audio tapes. If someone took it upon themselves to update that delivery system, this could be useful indeed!
Encyclopedia Brown has inspired book clubs, contests, parodies, tributes, and more. And I’m sure he had some small part in inspiring me to become a creator of mysteries, carrying on the tradition in my own way.
Three cheers for Encyclopedia Brown!
How about you? Did you enjoy Encyclopedia Brown back in the day? Or maybe even now? Tell us about it in the comments.