Although some teachers, parents, and librarians worry that reading the many Encyclopedia Brown installments may keep children from reading more difficult work of greater literary value, young readers’ interest in the series is quite reasonable, at least in part because the Encyclopedia Brown books’ purpose, structure, and plots neatly fit the emotional and cognitive development of the average ten-year-old. Aware of and interested in personal relationships as well as the system of rules that govern them, ten-year-olds are fascinated by conflict resolution. Every Encyclopedia Brown case revolves around some pattern of legal or moral noncompliance, which either results in personal conflict or stems from it.
In “The Case of the Hidden Will,” in Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Dead Eagles (1975), a dead Mr. King tricks and scolds his sons from the grave, hiding his final will in a place that they can only find by solving a riddle. He does this because three of them have been lazy and one has been disloyal. Sobol makes clear that this unhappy circumstance is a result of the grown sons’ insufficient family feelings, which can only be resolved by punishing and excluding the son who embezzles from his father and challenging the sons who care so little for the family business, and their father, that they malinger. Although this exact scenario is unlikely to take place in the readers’ personal lives, it does hint at more familiar family...
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Donald Sobol has achieved much popular success with the Encyclopedia Brown series, which began in 1963. He received the Pacific Northwest Readers’ Choice Award for Encyclopedia Brown Keeps the Peace (1973) and established his work as a respectable part of a long and popular tradition of juvenile mystery series, including the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Boxcar Children books. Sobol has also been recognized for his overall contribution to the genre with a special Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, which is significant because it recognizes the ties between juvenile mystery and adult mystery. It is no accident that the Encyclopedia Brown series mimics some of the conventions of the adult mystery, characterizing Bugs Meany as a wise-guy toughie and Sally Kimball as a quick-talking, street-smart girl-with-a-heart-of-gold. Juvenile readers cannot help being influenced by the voracious mystery-reading habits of their parents, and parents often enjoy reading aloud the junior version of their own escapist fiction.