Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Idaville Interlude: Encyclopedia Brown: Super Sleuth by Donald J. Sobol

In every city and town across the United States, crime was a serious problem. Except in Idaville. For more than a year, no one--grown-up or child--had gotten away with breaking the law there.

Chief of Police Brown was indeed both smart and brave. However, the real genius behind the town's perfect arrest record was his ten-year-old son, Encyclopedia Brown.

Encyclopedia solved the crime at the table. Usually he had to ask just one question.

With this familiar opening, author Donald J. Sobol launches the twenty-fourth in his long-running Encyclopedia Brown series, begun in 1963, with his just-published Encyclopedia Brown, Super Sleuth.

Following a formula which has pleased middle readers over the years, Sobol crafts ten short mysteries, with a variety of Idaville's quirky characters and the usual suspects--especially Bugs Meany, the evergreen bully and his henchmen, the Tigers. Clues are embedded in the story, as is Leroy (Encyclopedia) Brown's astute interrogations and studied reasoning. All that each "minute mystery" lacks is the solution. The reader is invited to posit his or her own solution using E.B.'s own clues, or failing that, to read the solution to the case in the final section of the book.

Some solutions are easy enough for most middle readers to come up with. For example, in the opening "Case of the Hollow Tree," following a tip off, Chief Brown and Encyclopedia join a nighttime state park stakeout to watch a hollow tree where the loot from a recent robbery is hidden. In the moonlight they spot a man, walking along a path and tapping each tree he passes with his cane. When accosted, the man denies any guilt, saying that he is just out for his evening constitutional. In this case, most readers will point out immediately that the man's tapping proves he is searching for the hollow tree where the stolen money is concealed.

Other cases require more close observation. In "The Case of the Disappearing $300," the solution of the case depends upon close attention to the testimony of a drugstore owner who has had an envelope with three $100 bills, intended as bonuses for his three employees, stolen during the busy lunch rush. The solution lies in the answers each employee gives when he or she responds to E. B.'s obvious question as to whether they took the envelope from under the counter. When George replies that he didn't touch "Mr. O'Hara's "Ben Franklins," Encyclopedia knows he need ask only one more question to uncover the thief."

Then he quietly asked Mr. O'Hara one question:

"Did you tell anyone what was in the bank envelope?"

"No, I didn't," said Mr. O'Hara. "I didn't want to get their hopes up. I can't afford to give them a bonus if the money isn't returned."

Careful readers will instantly see that George couldn't have known that three $100 portraits of Ben Franklin were in the missing envelope unless he had taken it and looked inside.

Likewise, in "The case of the Patriotic Volunteer," Encyclopedia quickly unmasks a con man who claims to be a conduit for donations to a Presidential fund when he brags that he has visited the president and his family at their home in the Capitol in Washington. Kids who don't know their District of Columbia lore can turn to the "Solutions" section to be reminded that Congress meets in the Capitol and the president lives in the White House.

There are plenty of preteen sleuths in print nowadays, thanks to the success of Leroy Brown and his encyclopedic knowledge, but these titles by Donald Sobol are almost the only ones which feature short, three- to five-page stories, suitable for a quick bedtime read or silent reading time at school, with the key to solving each case in a separate section inviting the reader to become E.B.'s partner in crime solving.

For an overview of last year's installment in the series, the first in twenty years, and some other Encyclopedia Brown fare, take a look at my 2008 post here.



  • Oh, I have SUCH fond memories of this series. My own children did not like it at all, sadly. Since I'm currently on a hunt for books for my friend's daughter, I'll have to pass this one on to her. Maybe Maddie will enjoy them! I've already sent her some, including one that children from sort of "non-traditional" families (Maddie is adopted) might really like. "Runt Farm: Under New Management" is the second in a series by Amanda Lorenzo. The animals are of multiple species (duck, cat -- and a vegetarian one to boot!, etc.) and form their own family. You are the family you choose, so to speak. They're fun and have a good message. And the web site has resources for teachers (and parents and librarians, too).

    By Blogger Liz, at 10:45 AM  

  • GenericViagara, what exactly do you mean by "found out some of his background"? What concerning his background turned you off to him? Please expand on this or provide links. Hopefully you have objective sources.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:53 PM  

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