Encyclopedia Brown played a big part in my childhood. I was really smitten with the fact that this dude was a superhero of the most unusual breed. Remember, this was long before Harry Potter. Encyclopedia (real name = Leroy) was a nerd with some serious star clout. His intelligence could outsmart even the biggest thugs (who could forget the dreaded Tigers?). His creator, Donald Sobel, passed away last week, and I reminisce with a heavy heart.
Sobol taught us to embrace the unconventional inside all of us. One of the coolest things to have happened to my oldest son (a dictionary-loving history buff) was his counselor at summer camp's interest in my little man's hobbies. It was she who urged him to bring his beloved slide rule to show and tell, even if my son was worried that the other children would think it was weird. She told him that "weird is awesome," something Mr. Sobel might have said himself.
Children should have more role models like Ms. Andrea and Encyclopedia Brown. Life is so much more interesting when we encourage creativity and let it take hold.
Another thing Sobol did in his mystery series was to introduce a super-tough female character named Sally Kimball. I totally dug her as a kid and frankly, still do. I was a major tomboy and the stories of the passive female characters didn't sit well with me (for obvious reasons). Sobol brought us a strong and completely powerful girl and he was quoted as saying this was "groundbreaking back in 1963 when the series was first published." I say it continues to be important in 2012.
Sobol brought books to life because the plot was never wrapped up in a neat little bow. Touching on history, math and science, the secrets were never revealed until the end. That was the most fulfilling part, even when we found out that we were wrong.
It may have been awhile since you last saw an Encyclopedia Brown book on a shelf. In Sobol's memory, I say we read one tonight with our kids and let them figure out the mystery. Who am I kidding? I could use all of the help I can get.
His family has asked that donations in his memory be made to The New York Public Library. You can find more information here.
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