I have come to the conclusion that I am lagging so far behind on my review schedule that I might as well throw in the towel and bring you a Tomes from the Olden Times post instead. Time seems to be getting away from me this month, and although I’ve read a bunch of the books I need to read, I don’t seem to be getting the time to post. I will do my best to rectify this as soon as is gargoylely possible.
Some months ago now, someone, on some blog, somewhere, mentioned the Encyclopedia Brown books and I just knew I had to revisit them in a TftOT post. (Actually, I’ve just had a search and it was a post on Sunlit Pages that brought these books to my renewed attention). As far as I know, Encyclopedia Brown wasn’t a big thing in Australia and I can’t remember how I originally stumbled across the books as a youngster…probably the library had something to do with it…and I think I only read two of the fifteen plus titles in the series, but when the post from Sunlit Pages reminded me of the interesting formatting of the stories, I just knew I had to hunt the books down and see what memories surfaced.
I managed to order the first in the series, Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol from the Book Depository and promptly let it sit on the TBR shelf until I noticed how thin it was and decided I could knock it over in half an hour or so. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Leroy Brown, aka Encyclopedia Brown, is Idaville neighborhood’s ten-year-old star detective. With an uncanny knack for trivia, he solves mysteries for the neighborhood kids through his own detective agency. But his dad also happens to be the chief of the Idaville police department, and every night around the dinner table, Encyclopedia helps him solve his most baffling crimes. And with ten confounding mysteries in each book, not only does Encyclopedia have a chance to solve them, but the reader is given all the clues as well. Interactive and chock full of interesting bits of information—it’s classic Encyclopedia Brown!
In case you haven’t come across these books before, they are set out like a book of short stories – the case of the missing this, the case of the mysterious that – but with one fun twist. Each story ends on a cliffhanger, with Encyclopedia claiming he has solved the case…but leaving the reader to figure out the solution for themselves! The solutions for each case are provided at the back of the book and I distinctly remember spending most of my time flicking through to the back to figure out the answer, back in the day. Happily, this time around I was able to solve all but one of the mysteries on my own (take THAT, mystery book for children!!), but I can certainly see why I found this book frustrating as a young reader.
For a start, the book is constrained by its now-historical (1960s) setting as well as the fact that it is set in America and at least one of the mysteries requires a little bit of American history knowledge (although admittedly, the mystery can be solved without that tidbit of information). Also, some of the cases involve knowledge and life experience that kids just might not have, but were blindingly obvious to me as an adult (or perhaps my subconscious just remembered the answers from when I read it the first time around!). The Case of the Happy Nephew, for instance, requires a bit of knowledge about cars, while The Case of the Champion Egg Spinner requires knowledge about cooking – both of which may have been perfectly common pieces of information in the ’60s, but might not be so common to child readers of the 20teens.
I quite enjoyed the fact that it felt like Idaville was a hot-bed of crime, with Encyclopedia’s services in demand around every corner. There was something charming and endearing about revisiting a character and series that hasn’t been updated for modern readers and sits as a perfect snapshot of kids of the time period, with not a screen or online message in sight. I think today’s young readers would get a definite kick out of Encyclopedia’s escapades, because they really require the reader to think and observe and watch out for those hidden clues. Then again, there’s always the fun of skipping ahead to the solutions and then proclaiming, “That’s what I thought. I knew that.”
Until next time,