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Donald J. Sobol Dies: Author Wrote Popular ‘Encylopedia Brown’ Series

July 16, 2012

Donald J. Sobol Dies: Author Wrote Popular ‘Encylopedia Brown’

By T. Rees Shapiro
     July 17 (Washington Post) -- Donald J. Sobol, a prolific
author of children's books, including the vastly popular mystery
series starring Encylopedia Brown — the crime-solving savant in
high-tops, died July 11 at a hospital in South Miami. He was 87.
     He had lymphoma, said a son, John Sobol.
     Mr. Sobol was a newspaper reporter in New York before
embarking on a literary career in the late 1950s. He wrote more
than 60 children's books on topics as varied as Medieval knights,
the American Revolutionary War and the Wright Brothers.
     None were more popular than the series he created in 1963
featuring the bookish protagonist Leroy "Encyclopedia" Brown, the
fifth-grade detective.
     There was no case too small for Encyclopedia Brown, who
earned his moniker for his superior intellect. From his office —
a dinner table, actually — at 13 Rover Avenue in Idaville, Fla.,
Brown solved mysteries through his keen sense of observation and
knowledge of obscure facts. (Brown knew, for instance, that a
three letter word for a river in Switzerland beginning with "A"
was "Aar.")
     There were cases involving stolen marbles and missing
violins, ghosts and masked robbers, and the 10-year-old hero
solved them all in a fashion not unlike a famous British sleuth
who smoked a pipe.
     Encyclopedia Brown was, Mr. Sobol wrote, "America's Sherlock
Holmes in sneakers."
     Beginning with "Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective," the
series of more than two dozen books reportedly sold tens of
millions of copies worldwide. In many of the stories,
Encyclopedia Brown assists his father, the chief of police, in
catching criminals.
     "Although the stories are simply written, they are clever
and fresh, and seldom obvious or easy to solve," critic Christine
McDonnell wrote in the reference work "Twentieth-century
Children's Writers."
     Mr. Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown series has been credited with
helping attract young readers to the world of books. Even the
most reluctant children have become enthralled with the stories.
Those who pay careful attention to detail are rewarded by
figuring out the mystery before its solution is revealed by Mr.
Sobol at the back of the book.
     Donald J. Sobol — the J was just an initial — was born Oct.
4, 1924, in New York, where his father owned gasoline stations.
He was an Army veteran of World War II and a 1948 graduate of
Oberlin College in Ohio.
     "I am totally unqualified to be a writer," Mr. Sobol once
wrote. "My childhood was unimpoverished and joyful. Even worse, I
loved and admired my parents."
     He worked as a copy boy for the New York Sun and as a
reporter for the old Long Island Daily Press during the 1940s and
1950s. He later wrote a syndicated column, "Two Minute
Mysteries," which led to the Encyclopedia Brown series.
     Survivors include his wife of 56 years, Rose Tiplitz Sobol
of South Miami; three children, Diane Sobol of Coral Gables,
Fla., Eric Sobol of Sarasota, Fla., and John Sobol of Berkeley
Heights, N.J.; a sister; and four grandchildren. A son, Glenn
Sobol, died in 1983.
     Mr. Sobol's innovative technique of explaining the mystery
in the back of his books came as a result of a misfiled library
     In an interview, John Sobol said his father was researching
at a branch of the New York Public Library when the writer asked
a librarian to bring him four books. Three of them were the
correct ones but a fourth was the wrong title. The fourth
happened to be a puzzle book with solutions in the back pages.
The writer realized he could apply the same concept to his
mysteries, his son said.
     Mr. Sobol received a special "Edgar" award from the Mystery
Writers of America in 1976 for his Encyclopedia Brown books.
     "Readers constantly ask me if Encyclopedia Brown is a real
boy. The answer is no," Mr. Sobol once said. "He is, perhaps, the
boy I wanted to be — doing the things I wanted to read about but
could not find in any book when I was 10."

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