|Robb's Rambling Reviews||
How could a book miss with a protagonist known as Encyclopedia? Add an antagonist with the last name Meanie, add a bit of good manners, and some old fashioned detective work, and you’ve got a hit. Donald Sobol’s characters might be old enough to be grandparents now, but his writing is timeless. Sobol’s theme that brains triumph over brawn is one we don’t see nearly enough in YA literature these days, and I miss it. Yes, we do see the good succeed over bad, and youth paying consequences for the choices of their patents, but just how often do we see young people using their brains, without the use of technology or violence? I know, this was a simpler time. But what’s wrong with that? I’d like to read about a simpler era from time to time. I know, I know, much of it has to do with the revenue generated from sale, except that it you were to check, you’d know Sobol’s original books were published in the 1960’s and haven’t been out of print since they were written. Do I hear dollar signs?
It isn’t just the themes in Sobol’s stories which works so well, but that the characters and plots he wrote are still as relevant today as they were fifty years ago. Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown, (yes Leroy Brown…no relation to the song) and his gang of friends are kids readers can relate to. How many kids who sit quietly in class, do the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do, and are generally normal kids, what to see the annoying, loud, irritating classmate get their comeuppance? Whether you view the characters as stereotypes, or archetypes, the clever, likeable characters such as Encyclopedia or Sally, or treacherous and double-crossing ones like Bugs or Mugsy, allow readers, especially reluctant readers, a chance to put themselves in these characters shoes and walk around for a while.
The stories’ plots are equally as relatable. Kids being swindled out of their money, people cheating at cards, kids trying to bully smaller or weaker classmates, the list goes on. Readers can participate fully in assisting Encyclopedia to unravel the scheme, assist him with reviewing clues, and celebrate when they see the villain get what’s coming to them. Likewise, as the accessible plots allow readers to gather clues with our hero, they begin to use their skills of problem solving, inductive and deductive reasoning, and inferencing, all of which are vital to become better readers and students.
As I read through Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, I had a strange feeling of déjà vu. The characters and plots seemed familiar, yet I couldn’t remember having read them before. Then, when I got to “The Case of the Knife in the Watermelon” it hit me. Ms. Denton, my fifth grade teacher, read us Encyclopedia Brown mysteries when we came back from lunch each day. I assume this was a way to transition from lunch to classwork, but I remember trying to be the one to solve the mystery before Encyclopedia and my classmates could. How could I have forgotten? Encyclopedia Brown, and his stories, could be seen by some to be a bit outdated, however I find their value to readers, especially reluctant readers and second language learners, far outweighs this. Their short, direct, and precise story lines allow readers with short attention spans to read one of nearly a dozen mysteries, and help solve it in one sitting.
With easy to follow plots, likeable and relatable characters, not to mention timeless plots, Donald Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown is a relevant today as he was half a century ago. Beginning readers will find the book easy to read due in large part to its precise, accurate language, and reluctant readers will find characters and plots which speak to them. For these reasons, as well as a strengthening reading skills and getting a glimpse into a simpler time, readers will never go wrong with Leroy, or as we his friends call him, Encyclopedia Brown.
Citation: Sobol, D. (2007). Encyclopedia brown: Boy detective. New York, NY: Random House.