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I Missed the Death of a Personal Icon

Donald J. Sobol

You’ve seen those signs, haven’t you? The ones that say, “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” Well, I do. I also thank the late author Donald J. Sobol. He and all of my grade school teachers made quite a team.

Donald J. Sobol, who, I’m just learning,  died from gastric lymphoma last week at the age of 87, created an iconic character for my childhood. The character’s name was, and is Leroy Brown. He is not bad, bad Leroy Brown. Nope, he is smart, smart Leroy Brown. His friends call him “Encyclopedia.”

For me, it really is the end of an era. I’m fairly certain I can thank, in part, Sobol and Encyclopedia Brown for my reading skills.

Encyclopedia Brown/Facebook

The Encyclopedia Brown books are collections of short stories about a boy detective who solves mysteries in his neighborhood and small town. The format is simple, even if the solutions aren’t.  A mystery is presented to Encyclopedia in some way–either at home at the dinner table, at school, or in the neighborhood.

He then assembles all the facts he’s heard, picks one small item out of all of them that doesn’t make sense, and solves the mystery. But the solution is not in the short story, only a tease to the solution.

To find the answers that Encyclopedia has found, you have to flip to the back of the book where the solutions to each story are listed. This, I feel, is the series’ trademark.

It’s funny. The other day at my elementary school reunion, the Brown books came up when some of us began talking about the Scholastic Books catalogue we’d receive during the school year. We were allowed to select two books that we would receive about a month later. Every kid I can remember couldn’t wait to get the Scholastic catalogue. And I couldn’t wait to get my Encyclopedia Brown books. I seldom got anything else.

Thank you, Donald J. Sobol.  May you rest in peace.

And, by the way, I have YET to solve even one of your Encyclopedia Brown mysteries.

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